This attractive resource is organized thematically in segments covering the history of the English language (Old English, Middle English, Modern English, English in different parts of the world); English vocabulary (its nature, structure, sources, etymology, and the dimensions of the lexicon); English grammar (structure of words and sentences, definitions of the main branches of grammar); spoken and written English; English usage (varieties of discourse and regional, social, and personal usage variations); and how people learn English and new ways to study English. Appendixes include a glossary, a list of symbols and abbreviations, references and addresses, further readings, and indexes of names, items, and topics. Crystal, a linguist, is the compiler of many reference books published by Cambridge, for example, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1987).

Throughout the book (which focuses on British English, not American English), readers will find liberal use of color in the many charts, illustrations, reprints of pages from historically significant works, maps, and photographs. The author does not shrink from exploring and delivering opinions on controversial topics such as the "opaque inspecific, or empty" language of politics and the dangers of "political correctness."

Each segment can be read as if it were the only section of the book, or, the work can be read cover to cover so that a cumulative effect is achieved. The only comparable resource that provides the same type of broad-ranging coverage in one volume is The Oxford Companion to the English Language [RBB O 15 92]. That work is arranged alphabetically within 22 themes (e.g., geography, history, media) and provides "an interim report on the nature and use of the English language" in all nations that speak English. The two works complement each other; Cambridge provides historical perspective and Oxford a snapshot of current English. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language lives up to the reputation of other resources published under the Cambridge imprint and will make an excellent addition to the collections of large public libraries and all academic libraries.