NONFICTION : THE INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF 20TH-CENTURY BIOGRAPHY by Edward Vernoff and Rima Shore (New American Library: $24.95; 832 pp.).

This very useful collection of 5,650 biographies has a number of unusual features. It is entirely the work of its two authors, rather than of a team of specialists. This leads to a welcome uniformity of presentation, as well as standard length of entry. Edward Vernoff and Rima Shore prove themselves reliable guides to a vast range of subjects. They have made a special effort to cover an international constituency, with scientific and technological as well as political and cultural figures. The result is therefore not unduly centered on the United States, and the inclusion of economists, scientists and inventors from the Western World (Asian coverage is predictably weaker) gives the volume a cosmopolitan guide to the sciences, but inventions are less consistently covered. Carlson (Xerox) and Gillette (razor) are in, but not Cockerell (Hovercraft) or Wankel (of the Wankel engine): Such omissions, however, could be debated ad infinitum .

The text is commendably up-to-date, with 1986 death dates and many recent citations in the bibliographical notes. The tone is uniformly muted, enthusiasm showing only occasionally in entries such as that for "Goose" Tatum ("a brilliant, razzle-dazzle ball handler, accurate shooter, and unsurpassed court comedian . . . "). Detecting such unbuttoned moments is an incidental pleasure of random searching in this judicious and very browsable compilation.

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