The Arab-Israeli conflict began about a century ago with the nearly simultaneous publication of two small books: Theodor Herzl's Der Judenstaat (1896), an outline for Jewish sovereignty, and `Abd ar-Rahman al-Kawakibi's Umm al-Qura ("The Mother of Cities," i.e., Mecca), an assertion of Arab superiority. Characteristically, the Historical Encyclopedia contains entries for both Herzl and his book but nothing about Kawakibi -- or almost any other Arab thinker, for that matter. In other words, like much coverage on this subject, the Historical Encyclopedia attends to the Israeli side of the conflict more than the Arab. Iraq gets a mere half page, Syria a third; in contrast, the entry on Jerusalem's King David Hotel and Al-Aqsa Mosque each fills 1 1/2 pages, the Al-Aqsa Mosque incident of October 1990 takes 2 1/2, and Jerusalem itself gets 6. The North American role gets similarly over-emphasized, with Canada filling 4 pages, Great Britain only 1. Secretary of State James Baker takes twice the length as Gamal Abdel Nasser; Ronald Reagan has 1 1/2 pages, Mikhail Gorbachev might never have existed.

The unevenness of its coverage aside, the Historical Encyclopedia is a superior reference work -- consistently accurate, terse, and unbiased. The biographical sketches of lesser-known players (Elyakim Rubinstein, `Amr Musa, Joseph Sisco) have great utility, while the long and informative entries by David Wurmser on each of the Arab-Israeli wars bear special note as models for encyclopedia entries.