FOR LOVE OF BOOKS: Don’t know much about Celtic history? New books can help

Thursday February 7, 2013

"The Celts: History, Life, and Culture," 2 volumes.

By John T. Koch (editor) and Antone Minard (editor).


I am on the editorial board of the American Library Association’s publication, Reference Book Bulletin, and have been reviewing reference books for them since 2004. In fact, I just counted them, and it has been 77 titles. In my readings I come across many fine reference works, which consist of handbooks, directories, encyclopedias and online resources. Occasionally I find a particular work that deserves wider popularity.

This work is an updated descendant of the seminal five-volume standard, "Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia" (2006). But one may ask, why a two-volume work just six years after this grand set?

The expansion of interest in Celtic language, civilization and culture among nonacademics is great, and the editors felt that a more accessible, up-to-date synthesis of Celtic culture was called for, and that is the reason for this two-volume "cousin." As stated in the introduction, "The glue holding Celtic studies together as an academic discipline has grown old and brittle."

"The Celts: History, Life, and Culture" consists of 808 essays written by more than 260 contributors who represent the leading edge of Celtic research in the world today. Essays range from 50 words to 3,000 words and cover the archaeology, folklore, history, languages, literature and mythology of the Celtic world. The historical period covers the pre-Roman Iron Age right up to the 21st century and geographically extends across Ireland, Britain, eastern Europe, Turkey and the Celtic diaspora in the Americas. All entries are signed and include 160 cross-references sprinkled throughout. Black-and-white illustrations include maps, graphs and reproductions of artwork.

The variety of topics relating to Celtic civilization is quite astounding. A sampling of entries begs for a glossary or pronunciation key: "Gogunfeirdd," "Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain," " Goursez Gourenez Breiz-Izel." Unfortunately, there is not one provided. Other entries are more standard, including Celtic coinage, Cornish language; Courtly love; Druids, Romantic images of, and Heroic ethos in early Celtic literature. Nearly 90 pages of bibliography and an index round out the work.

"The Celts: History, Life, and Culture" is an American Library Association, Editor’s Choice Reference Book for 2012.

The review was first published Dec. 15, 2012 in Booklist. The book may be found on the reference shelf at Brooks Memorial Library under REF 936.5 CEL .

Reviewed by Jerry Carbone, Brooks Memorial Library Director.

"For Love of Books" is a column written by readers of notable books which may be found in local libraries and bookstores. "Guidelines for Reviewers" may be requested from Brooks Memorial Library at 802-254-5290 or brattlib


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