From Homer to J.K. Rowling, this encyclopedia uses a standardized approach to introduce students to over 500 major figures of world literature. Each entry begins with basic biographical data, a note on the principle genres in which the writer worked, a list of major works and a paragraph on the individual’s literary significance. A section entitled "Works in Biographical and Historical Context" chronologically traces the early life and career of the writer. "Works in Literary Context" notes various influences as well as related genres or literary movements. "Works in Critical Context" describes the critical reception that each writer received, from early reviews to later academic reappraisals. Sidebars list related contemporary figures and literary works. The latter may include influences upon the author or other writers of similar themes, genres or style. A "Responses to Literature" section poses questions for the student to pursue as further research. Selective bibliographies include reviews, literary criticism and occasional biographies in both printed and online formats. A brief glossary explains literary concepts and movements. The main index provides access by author, title, genre and selected literary themes. A secondary index lists writers by nationality.
In themselves, the entries provide succinct introductions to a wide range of authors. The chief weakness of the set is its inconsistency of coverage in terms of period and place. Nearly two fifths of the writers represented came from Britain. Another tenth come from France. Most other countries are more sparingly represented. Since coverage is world–wide, one cannot expect large numbers of writers from every nation. However, one must wonder in terms of influence on world literature if there are really more influential writers from Nigeria than from ancient Rome. The temporal balance is also an issue, with the vast majority of the writers covered being active in the nineteenth or twentieth century. Considering this heavy emphasis on modern literature, why not simply make that the focus of the set and perhaps expand the non–European coverage? On the other hand, all the writers represented are worth investigating and including in library collections. As such, this set provides high school students and general readers with an excellent introduction to a wide spectrum of world literature.