The Hornbook of Virginia History: A Ready-Reference Guide to the Old Domminion's People, Places, and Past. Edited by EMILY J. SALMON and EDWARD D. C. CAMPBELL, JR. Fourth Edition. Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 1994. xi, 324 pp. $29.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.
IN 1949 the History Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Economic Development published the Hornbook of Virginia History, a reference book that quickly became a standard source of information about the commonwealth. New editions appeared in 1965 and 1983. This latest edition, the fourth, is the biggest of the Hornbooks, a substantial volume, profusely illustrated and handsome enough to keep on the coffee table and yet compact enough to fit on an ordinary bookshelf. The publisher is the Library of Virginia, an institution better known to most of us by its old name, the Virginia State Library and Archives.
The format of the Hornbook will be familiar to those who have used earlier editions. The book begins with an eighty-page, concise narrative of Virginia history from before Jamestown to the present. The reader is pulled through the centuries at a fast clip (the Civil War begins and ends in less than three pages), but the account is quite readable, and there is enough departure from chronology and enough new information to keep it interesting. Although the authors make occasional nods to minorities and women and throw in some social history, the emphasis is on political developments, and the approach is rather conventional. I suspect the authors deliberately sought to avoid the cultural wars of the 1990s, for which they can hardly be blamed. (Those who feel a nostalgia for the old days should take a look at the 1949 edition as a reminder of how exclusive Virginia history once was.)
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