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B o o k R e v i e w s 3 5 7 Encyclopedia of the Qreat Plains. Edited by David J. Wishart. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 919 pages, $75.00. Reviewed by Brian W. Dippie University of Victoria, British Columbia Like a stockbroker touting a stock, I must begin with full disclosure. I recom­ mend this book. And, yes, I have a vested interest in its success. I am one of the nearly 1,000 contributors responsible for its 1,316 entries, arranged in 27 thematic sections, each introduced by an extended essay and accompanied by a short bibliography. (I should add that I will not materially benefit from any sales since contributors worked gratis.) Encyclopedia of the Great Plains is imaginative in two respects: its cover­ age, which is precisely defined, comprehensive, and quirky (more about this later), and its organization, which has already been subjected to criticism in an Atlantic Monthly review. It was a daring decision to organize the encyclopedia by themes. Six can be categorized as social history—involving ethnicity and gender—and twelve as cultural studies—“Architecture,” “Art,” “Education,” “Film,” “Folkways,” “Images and Icons,” “Law,” “Literary Traditions,” “Media,” “Music,” “Religion,” and “Sports and Recreation.” The advantage of these the­ matic divisions, as the editor notes, is in grouping scattered entries to facilitate understanding. Serendipitous discoveries abound. The disadvantage, as the editor also notes, is that the departure from a strictly alphabetical arrangement makes for arbitrary classifications. Sacagawea is under “Gender” and the NorthWest Mounted Police under “Law” instead of “Images and Icons,” where the madonna of the one-dollar coin and the most famous symbol of the opening of the Canadian West assuredly belong. Where should the entry for Ralph Ellison go—under “African Americans” or “Literary Traditions”?In fact, Ellison makes it into “Literary Traditions” because of his national significance as a writer, but Langston Hughes does not. The encyclopedia acknowledges the problem by including an entry heading for Ellison in bold face under “African Americans” directing the reader to the appropriate thematic section. Consult the book’s general index at the outset, the editor advises, and the problem never arises. Of course, it would be just as logical to adopt a strictly alphabetical organization throughout, providing thematic indexes at the front of the book. The decision was made, however, so themes it is. Appropriately for an encyclopedia of the Great Plains, the book is rather plain in appearance, more functional than pretty. It includes many well-chosen black-and-white maps and illustrations, but no color plates. It is also appro­ priately quirky, as I mentioned. Entries for “Riding Around,” “Emptiness,” “Blizzard Stories,” and “Mad Pioneer Women” are just a few of the gems in store for browsers. Sometimes the entries seem disproportionate in length, with some major topics getting short shrift in comparison to some relatively minor ones. But on the whole a nice balance is maintained. The Great Plains extend 3 5 8 W e s t e r n A m e r i c a n L i t e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 6 across the 49th parallel—which has an entry of its own—and so does this book’s reach. Canadian and American topics are equally well covered, and themes common to both are dealt with in an even-handed manner. The book’s focus on a region defined by its physical features renders provincial and state boundaries largely irrelevant, since only the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas fall fully within the designated area. If one thinks of national parks in Alberta, Montana, or Wyoming, Jasper, Banff, Waterton, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton likely come to mind, but they do not make the cut here. Alberta’s only Great Plains national park is Elk Island due east ofEdmonton, and neither Montana nor Wyoming has one. The entries are compact and informative, and some rise to eloquence—the closing paragraphs of Bret Wallach’s overview essay on “Physical Environment,” for example, abandon a neutral tone to speak compellingly of a land once open and free but now fettered by fences and clutter. The book is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 357-358
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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