American History Multi-Volume Encyclopedias: A Rethink & Comprehensive Overview

Dec 2016
Since I could read, I have loved encyclopedias.

My Mom ensured that age-appropriate encyclopedias were on our bookshelves, ending with the World Book set from sometime in the middle 1960s. I am certain that I learned and retained more from perusing those volumes than during same years in school. Those hours spurred interests I still pursue, such as history of electronics, technology / invention biographies, and modern American history.

Recently I have returned to the old-form encyclopedia as a means to foundation a university-class library of hard-cover books supporting my field of study during retirement: Emerging Modern America (I made up this label; it includes Gilded Age, Progressive Era, WW I, Roaring Twenties, Great Depression, WW II, and 1950s). From the encyclopedia bibliographies, I've acquired many of the top-ranked academic-study hard-cover books on my subject. In all but campus and athletic fields, An Academy is Born!

This discovery saw more pounds of books traded in, donated, and recycled rather than retained. Indeed, multi-volume history sets were quite a popular platform for publishers in 1990s and into the early 2000s. There is plenty out there to buy and it's very cheap in most cases (reference books are the best dollar-for-pounds purchases of the Ex Library / ExLib used-books world). A good reference library is a curated collection. In my acquisition period, I learned a lot that I'll summarize here with set-specific reviews coming.


Multiple Volume. First major discovery was that the single-volume American history reference book platform needs to retire. If you like books, there are multi-volume sets featuring exponentially greater depth and breadth for almost no more real money ($9 delivered used versus $20 delivered used). Or Google. Either way, these one-volume books are a waste of your time if you are building a university-class library. They are too light, always way out-dated, and simply not the best book value in any scenario. Do not buy these or similar single-volume encyclopedias covering all of American history.
  • The Reader's Companion to American History (Foner)
  • Encyclopedia of American History (Morris)

High School / College / Graduate Studies. Look for references to the intended age groups and accept nothing less than Grades 10 and up. I found the difference in age leveling did more to detriment an edition than publication date. Anything after 1990s is going to be good scholarship about GAPE or 1920s. However, something written to a middle-school mind is not going to be more than a passing resource.

In sum, the winners to foundation a university-class library supporting study of Emerging Modern America
- Hardcover
- Multi-volume
- Grades 10 and up; preferably College

Here we go...
Last edited:
Dec 2016
U-X-L Publisher works / various series on American History

U-X-L Publisher works / various series on American History

For each topic there are three sections: almanac, biography and primary sources.
Age range is middle school, grades 7-10.
I hate this organization of content. I don't find value in breaking out the three sections.
Age range is too young.

I don't recommend for even the stated age students.

Dec 2016
ABC-CLIO publisher / Clio Companions series / Perspectives in American Social History

ABC-CLIO publisher / Clio Companions series / Perspectives in American Social History series / Routledge publisher

While publisher ABC-CLIO / Routledge content is geared to the High School library, it is deep enough to be considered for early college / lower division. The presentation is excellently organized. For an inexpensive place to start the foundation of reference works, I love these sets; ideal primers for all but upper-division and graduate students:

Encyclopedia of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 3 Volumes (Routledge)
Encyclopedia of the Jazz Age, 2 Volumes (Routledge)

Dec 2016
Checkmark Books, Facts on File, Eyewitness History

Literally eveything in the various Facts on File / Eyewitness History sets are worth the little spent for ex-library references. University level content.

Several of their American history series that stand out:

Facts on File Library of American History
The Eyewitness History Series
Almanacs of American Life

Dec 2016
Cengage Gale American History Encyclopedias

Cengage Gale American History Encyclopedias.

Graduate / Professional Scholar breadth and depth.

While these two sets are over 20 years old, they are inexpensive, and there may not be a better dollar-per-pound idea in this whole thread.

Encyclopedia of American Social History Edition (3 volumes)
Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History (3 volumes)

Best / Graduate Level.