The Dictionary of National Biography is a comprehensive set of about 36,000 biographies of significant British persons. It was founded by George Smith in 1882. The Dictionary of National Biography have been printed by Oxford University Press since 1917. It is issued in four parts.
The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, published in three parts:
- The Dictionary of National Biography - From the Earliest Times to 1900. Twenty-two volumes, 30,500 pages, more than 30,000 biographies. This portion contains biographies of individuals who died prior to 1900. It was originally published in 66 volumes, from 1885-1900, edited by Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee. The Dictionary proper is the first 21 volumes. The twenty-second volume is a supplement, first printed in 1901, containing biographies of individuals who died after the volume they would be listed in was completed. The Dictionary has been reprinted several times.
- The Dictionary of National Biography - Twentieth Century. An update to the original dictionary, each volume covering aproximately one decade. An individual appears in the volume corresponding to the year in which they died. Each volume has a cumulative index covering itself and the volumes preceeding it. Volumes printed thus far are:
The Concise Dictionary
acts as an index
, providing condensed
versions of all the biographies in the much larger Dictionary
in three volumes.
Missing Persons - A single volume, issued in 1993, of about 1000 persons from all times omitted from the original dictionary.
The Dictionary of National Biography is (as a bibliomaniac and noder) one of the two most useful printed reference tools I have ever used. (1) The length and quality of the listings is impressive - for example, William Hogarth has 14 and a half pages. Robert Copland has two pages. For writers, it lists the year of the first editions of all of their significant works. It incluides the bibliography for every article. All in all, it is a very useful book.
Oxford University Press is presently working on a new edition, the New Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew, scheduled to be completed in 2004. The New Dictionary will have about 50,000 articles, and be available both in print and on CD-ROM. All of the articles in the present Dictionary will be rewritten for the New Dictionary.
The Dictionary is presently available in the printed form as listed above, £1500 for the Dictionary through 1900 (ISBN 0-19-865101-5), £175 for the Concise Dictionary (ISBN 0-19-865305-0). It is also available on a single CD-ROM, ISBN 0-19-268312-8, for £150. Oxford University Press does not list the Twentieth Century Dictionary on it's web site.
As a result of the success of the Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press has published the American National Biography, with the biographies of about 17,000 Americans (ISBN 0-19-520635-5), in 24 volumes, for $2500. Other publishers have used the National Biography concept to create similar works for their respective countries.
The Dictionary of National Biography is almost impossible to find used. Due to the high cost, it is usually purchased only by libraries and the occasional very well off scholar or bookstore. With additions provided by supplemental volumes, instead of new editions, there is little need to buy a new set, and accordingly, very few copies available used. Used copies generally sell for between $750 and $1500, depending upon condition. If you see a copy for sale at a reasonable price, buy it, before the bookseller changes his/her mind!
1. The most useful being the National Union Catalog, which, useful as it is, is not the sort of thing an individual can reasonably buy.
2. No, I do not have the money to buy books like this. I bought my copy at The Two Dollar Rare Book Store - I got an incredible deal on it.