Your Most-Often-Consulted Reference Books?

Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by LizzieMaine, Aug 13, 2014.

  1. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Remember before the Internet when, when you needed to look up a fact or research a topic, you reached for a reference book? Those hefty tomes looked impressive on your shelves and they more than paid for themselves in the amount of valuable information they contained.

    And with all the information you can find online, there's still a place for real reference books. Here's the ones I use most often:

    The World Almanac, editions of 1923 thru 1963. If there's a date or a statistic I need for an article or even a forum post, these publications are authoritative.

    Variety Radio Directory 1937-38 and 1938-1939. These volumes are invaluable references for information on radio personalities and their program credits, as well as information on behind-the-scenes personnel you'll find listed nowhere online and in very few modern books. In my articles and essays on radio history these books are consulted often.

    The American Dance Band Discography: 1917-1942 by Brian Rust. These two volumes contain detailed information on just about every popular dance-band record released in the United States between the dawn of the dance-band era and the first Petrillo strike -- including recording dates, band personnel listings, and matrix numbers. For record collectors or just people who enjoy the music, you won't find this much information anywhere online. Equally useful is Rust's "Complete Entertainment Discography," which provides the same sort of information for the personality records of the Era.

    Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition, 1941 printing. Still the best unabridged dictionary ever published in the United States -- what it lacks in modern slang/tech language it more than makes up in useful appendixes. And no book is better for just browsing when you're bored.

    The Oxford Cyclopedic Concordance -- a concise, efficient index to the Bible. If you're trying to remember a particular verse and can only think of one or two words, a concordance will steer you exactly where you want to go. Most such books are big and bulky, but my edition of the Oxford is condensed to the most-often-searched-for terms, and includes topical references.

    1941 Shop Manual, Chrysler Canada, Ltd. If you own an old car, and don't own the appropriate shop manual, you'll be sorry.

    The phone book. Seriously. It's likely to be much more up-to-date than the often-outdated Google white pages listings.

    Honorable mention goes to my 1937 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I don't consult it as often as I did in pre-Internet times, but aside from articles which have obviously dated, it's still a valuable reference to prewar history and the natural world, which you know hasn't been edited and reedited by somebody calling himself "Wikimonster." Plus it's still fun to just pull a volume off the shelf and browse.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2014
  2. Sharpsburg

    Sharpsburg One of the Regulars

    I don't know if you would consider it a "reference" book, but as a civilian reenactor I turn MANY times to my trusty 1943 Sears Catalog! You can learn all manner of things about life of the "average" every-day woman or man with the Sears catalog. Many books about 194os life focus on high-class/designer clothes and furnishings but Sears lets you see what the average person was buying or using. A great reference for me!
  3. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

    New York City
    I normally just post a question and wait for Lizzie to answer it (with all supporting detail and background information).

    Not that the above isn't partially true, as to the question, while I mainly use the web today, I still grab my "Elements of Style" a few times a month and "The Deluxe Transitive Vampire" - a quirky grammar book that I find - along with its equally quirky companion "The Well-Tempered Sentence" - are great books for my grammar questions.
  4. Atticus Finch

    Atticus Finch Call Me a Cab

    Coastal North Carolina, USA
    Other than the stuff I use in my job, this is probably my most-often-consulted reference book. Even after spending much of my life on or around the water, I still have to look things how to eye splice a rope or which side the red markers are on when you're traveling south on the ICW.


  5. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Strunk and White (1959) Elements of Style.

    APA Style Manual (2009).
    Thankfully the APA manual is the second printing. If you want to read something shameful, read about the number of errors it originally contained in the first printing. Several journals and schools refused to adopt the latest style guidelines for a year in protest.

    I also have a variety of aging terminology manuals printed by the NIA/ NIH that I use. I also frequently refer to Carlson's (2008) Lucky Few.

    Do my daughter's favorite books count? I swear I've referred to "Apples Apples Everywhere" and "Johnny Appleseed" (she's on an apple kick) more times in the past week than I've looked at any book in my life. (I read both to her about 12 times yesterday.)
  6. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

    New York City
    If you see my post above, "Element of Style" was mine as well - no surprise, really, quite a successful little book - but mine is a 1980's version that is barely holding together.
  7. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Mine was my father's- I found it in a crate in the upstairs hayloft when I was a teen. It's barely survived its time like your copy. (The only vote it had in my favor is I don't believe that my father ever opened it.)

    I also have a second copy of the same edition that I believe my grandmother used when she taught school- that is in worse shape. Both are more tape than book. :)
  8. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

    New York City
    Whenever I spend anytime with it (as opposed to just looking up the same things in it, oh, about a billion times), I realize how far short of its standard I fall every day I write on one of these boards.
  9. emigran

    emigran Practically Family

    Just ordered the Dance Band Discography... thanks very much for the link ...
    PS my nmost used reference book is a Thesaurus... always nearby...
  10. Edm1

    Edm1 Familiar Face

    I have lots of old ARRL handbooks and antenna guides. It is much easier for me to consult these than to move from the shop, inside and look something up online.
  11. rjb1

    rjb1 Practically Family

    "Mechanical Engineering Design" by Shigley I have three editions and the oldest is coming apart at the seams from a few decades of continuous use...

    "Mechanical Engineering Handbook" by Marks Some of my students came by my office and said they had been looking for a particular value related to automotive air conditioning for a week on the internet and had not found anything. I picked up my Mechanical Engineering Handbook, checked the index, and found what they needed in about two minutes.

    "World Book Encyclopedia" -1957 Good for general information and particularly good for maps... Same set my parents bought for me way back when... used to sit and read them for entertainment...

    Huge number of old engineering textbooks...

    I try my best to emphasize to my students the benefit of reference books and I give them the Parable of the Fishes:
    I ask if they were hungry and wanted to eat would they a) Drop their line in the middle of the ocean and hope that something would bite, and that that something would be edible or b) cast their line in a well-stocked catfish pond?

    I don't know if they fully appreciate the ocean/Internet vs. catfish-pond/reference-book analogy, but at least I try.
  12. Smithy

    Smithy I'll Lock Up

    Keith Draper's "Fly Fishing for Beginners". I've had this for years and still come back to it. It's the perfect size as well and fits in my fishing vest.

    DK's "Sailing", a small encyclopaedic book about all things yachting. And another one I still drag out if there's something I want clarification on or help with.

    Kenneth Wynn's "Men of the Battle of Britain". The BoB is one of my great interests and you'll never find the depth of information in this tome on the internet.


    Whoops, I use these just as much if not more than the others above:

    - The Oxford Concise English Dictionary

    - The Times Atlas of the World

    - Vega Forlag's English - Norwegian, Norsk - Engelsk Dictionary
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2014
  13. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    Some kind of technical manual for autos. In recent years I have answered many many questions on antique auto bulletin boards. Usually consulting my 1954 Motor Repair Manual or Chrysler factory repair and parts manuals. This level of minute detail is usually not available with a quick net search.
  14. Wally_Hood

    Wally_Hood One Too Many

    Screwy, bally hooey Hollywood
    Dunning's Tune In Yesterday, not really a reference work, but a thorough overview of golden age radio.
  15. Horace Debussy Jones

    Horace Debussy Jones A-List Customer

    The Bowery
    Lately it's "Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters". The definitive compendium of painting knowledge first published in 1847 and written by Sir Charles Lock Eastlake. A veritable cornucopia of old painting knowledge for artists.
  16. I have kept a copy of my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary around since high school. I think it's a circa 1982 edition.

    I also have a few scientific reference books I keep handy:

    "Manual of Mineralogy" by J.D. Dana
    "Groundwater" by Freeze and Cherry
    "Handbook of Chemistry and Physics"
  17. DNO

    DNO One Too Many

    Toronto, Canada
    I have been a student of the First World War for many years so I have a number of specialized reference books that deal with that subject. Monthly Army Lists get consulted fairly often.

    In more general applications I love my Oxford Compact English Dictionary. That's the two volume job that comes with a magnifying glass. If it's a word in English, it's in there (unless it's been added since it was printed, of course). It can be awkward to use but it never leaves you wanting.
  18. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab

    The Swamp
    In my case, it's the 1984-vintage Britannica that I bought back then, and the unabridged dictionary in 3 volumes that came with it. Then there's the atlases: a Reader's Digest one I've had since 1968, a Rand McNally from the mid-Eighties, and a 1967 Times Atlas (London Times, that is). The latter weighs as much as the previous two together, and in it the United States and North America are not at the beginning, like most atlases, but somewhere farther back. England and Europe are first up. When I read a book with a lot of geography or in which the characters travel, I like to haul one of them out and follow as the author mentions place names.

    For history, I have Thomas W. Africa's history of Rome, The Immense Majesty, The Army of the Caesars by Michael Grant, and The March of Folly, by Barbara Tuchman.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2014
  19. Haversack

    Haversack One Too Many

    Clipperton Island
    Looking at what I've currently got out on the desk next to the keyboard: The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, (A 1570 cookery book); Henley's Formulas for Home and Workshop; and a third edition, ca. 1936 of Architectvral Graphic Standards.
  20. Bushman

    Bushman My Mail is Forwarded Here

    As a big Dinosaur and Jurassic Park geek, I commonly find myself perusing Gregory S. Paul's Predatory Dinosaurs of the World and Thomas Holtz's The Complete Dinosaur. However, as a film connoisseur, I also have a lot of Making-Of books lying around.

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