The Encyclopedia of New England: The Culture and History of an American Region

Article excerpt

The Encyclopedia of New England: The Culture and History of an American Region Burt Feintuch and David H. Walters, Editors. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

The Encyclopedia of New England, in twenty-two sections with thirteen hundred entries on 1,564 pages, is a mammoth and long-awaited reference book that makes a significant contribution to our understanding of regional culture. It is an alphabetic tour of the six-state region from its prehistory to the present edited by Burt Feintuch end David Waiters, two University of New Hampshire scholars. The articles were written by six hundred experts (many senior scholars) on everything from art colonies to water cures. The organizing principle is what defines New England and the answer offered again and again is the ideas and images that evoke New England in the minds of most Americans.

In the interest of full disclosure, this reviewer contributed two short entries to this volume, but this in no way colors my admiration for the wide variety of scholars who made this book dangerous bedtime reading. The unwary readers may see sunrise before exhausting their curiosity. With authoritative introductions to each section, the articles make clear the nature and influence of New England from its early history, its industrial glory days, and its countless (if sometimes quirky) contributions to the nation. Like most useful encyclopedias, this book explains the familiar and explores the unusual, from Ally McBeal and the Maine coon cat to Julia Child and zoos.

American culture and popular culture are well represented too, with entries on topics from abortion, Aerosmith, agricultural fairs, blizzards, blueberries, clambakes, Dunkin' Donuts, and Howard Johnson, to Moby-Dick, the Newport Jazz festival, Summer Stock Theater, vaudeville, and Yaz. …