This substantial work aims to present a coherent and comprehensive overview of the history and workings of one of the most important and most maligned of American institutions. For the most part, it succeeds admirably. The three editors have each published extensively on Congress, one as a journalist, one as a political scientist, and the third as a historian. The more than 500 contributors are drawn from these fields as well as from the ranks of public officials, giving this work a notable breadth of viewpoint, though on occasion resulting in some unevenness of treatment and tone in articles.
The encyclopedia consists of 1,056 signed articles, which range from less than a page (C-Span) to 10 pages or more (Committees). All save one contain brief annotated bibliographies. In addition, the entry Congress: Bibliographical Guide is an annotated bibliography of print and electronic reference sources. Articles cover various aspects of congressional institutions, procedures, polity, and traditions, as well as various issues dealt with by Congress, from Abortion to World War II. There are articles on more than 200 members of Congress, as well as such survey articles as Hispanic Members and Women in Congress. All presidents receive separate entries, focusing on each’s relationship with Congress. Articles on each state concentrate, for the most part, on the history of the state’s congressional delegation, though at least one, New Jersey, chooses to focus on the role of that state’s delegation at the Constitutional Conventions. Other articles deal with major pieces of legislation, important events in the history of Congress, constitutional amendments, and significant court cases.
Views of Congress in the wider culture are presented in Movies on Congress, Humor and Satire: About Congress, and Literature on Congress, which discusses fiction. The work is generously illustrated with photographs and political cartoons, some of the latter reproduced for the first time since their original publication. Tables accompany many articles, often with hard-to-find information, such as the names, dates of service, and religious affiliations of all the chaplains of Congress, or all significant legislation concerning veterans benefits. A glossary of terms and a synoptic outline of contents are included, in addition to a detailed index. A few errors did make their way into this work; the text of the article Library of Congress misidentifies the librarian who succeeded Ainsworth Rand Spofford as John Russell Long, though the accompanying table correctly lists him as John Russell Young. A table in the article Political Parties identifies John Anderson and Ross Perot as candidates of the American Independent Party, along with George Wallace.
There is little competition to this work; a number of single-volume reference works on Congress exist, but these do not challenge its breadth and depth. The Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System [RBB Jl 94] is a serious work with considerable information on the U.S. Congress. However, it consists entirely of long thematic articles on the history and political processes of various legislative institutions at the local and state, as well as federal, level and is less useful for documenting the personalities and the life of Congress and the issues that body has dealt with. This new encyclopedia is an impressive achievement and an essential purchase for most large public and academic libraries.
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