The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language by David Crystal is one of the most comprehensive and fascinating books on the English language available. David Crystal is an author who can bridge the gap between academic writing and popular works. He does this more by his excellent writing than by dumbing down his work.
As the title implies, this is more a reference book to be dipped into than a book that should be read from start to finish - although that is exactly what I ended up doing. The first part of the book looks at the language from a historical viewpoint; treating each of the main developments in the evolution of the language in turn. The second section looks at vocabulary and the third deals with English grammar. The following section of the encyclopaedia deals with spoken and written English before the author moves on to the use of the language in its various forms (accents, sociolinguistics, advertising etc). The final section of the book looks at English as a second language. Each of the sections mentioned are, in turn, broken down into very short sections which enable the reader to dip in and out of the book at will.
A particularly pleasing aspect of the book is a recognition of the fact that just because a book is serious and intelligently written doesn’t mean it has to be dry in its presentation. This excellently-written work is supported by a highly attractive approach to layout and presentation. Whether for its comprehensive study of the language or its fascinating snippets and asides, this is a book that will be picked up again and again by readers with an interest in English in all its forms.