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Dictionary of Symbols:
With its gorgeous layout, slick paper, catchy cover, and French flaps, the Dictionary of Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Traditional Images, Icons, and Emblems is exactly what you'd expect from Chronicle Books (the publishers of Griffin and Sabine). It's a perfect gift book right down to the small trim size and new-book smell; the blue, black, and white illustrations, inset feature panels, and margin cross-references combine to make it an irresistible browse.
Romp through the alphabetic arrangement for access to informative histories of hundreds of symbols, from "eleven" (which signified sin to St. Augustine but fecundity to African shamans) to "trickster," from "mistletoe" to "monkey" to "mimosa" (the certainty of resurrection in Western traditions). Consult the "Index of Supplementary Words" to track down the hoards of additional terms that are referenced in main entries.
Beware that the two-column layout detracts somewhat from the clarity of the text (the writing is too dense to be read easily in short lines), and that no bibliographic citations are included. For a less beautiful, more academic option, consider the Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. But is it a combination of entertainment and erudition that you seek? Then there's no need to look any further. --Elizabeth Briskin [via]