ABC-CLIO has recently released a new reference work entitled American Civil War: The Essential Reference Guide, hardback, 2011. It will surely suffice for smaller libraries that have no single volume reference on the American Civil War. However, it is hardly “The” Essential Reference Guide. A more appropriate titel would simple be “An Essential Reference Guide.”
But for the role it fills in the Civil War domain of reference it is a very fine work built upon the solid writing and work of 37 scholars, of whom about one-third are independent. The publisher was smart to secure esteemed historian Steven E. Woodworth as a lead writer. His essay contributions include valuable treatments on an Overview of the ACW, Causes of the ACW, Consequences of the ACW, and Leadership in the ACW.
The single tome is edited by James R. Arnold and Roberta Wiener. It is 432 pages, includes five essays in the appendix, a useful 42 page timeline, and 20 additional primary resource documents (e.g., speeches). It is in hardback and is 7 x 10 inches. Retail is $85.00. Black-n-white pictures and maps are relatively limited in quantity. There is a solid print bibliography and index.
About 20% of the entries are devoted to specific battles or campaigns and roughly 30% of the entries are biographical in nature. That leaves 50% of the content to be of a general nature, which one would expect of a simple reference guide.
The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference is a much better single volume for larger libraries especially since its much cheaper ($16.50 on Amazon) and more extensive in its coverage. American Civil War: The Essential Reference Guide, is more suited to smaller school or public libraries.