Unlike many a reference-book compiler, Mr. Lynch is interested in first principles—in theory, psychology and motive, in what actually constitutes a work of reference and what impulse inspires the average library browser to pick one up or the cyber-crawler to click ... With 50 entries on display, Mr. Lynch’s catalog is necessarily partial. At the same time, its savor is dramatically enhanced by a series of 'half-chapters' that dot the book, allowing him to rove into mysterious territories far beyond the language dictionary or the sporting digest.
“...a lively and erudite history of [lexicography] ... You Could Look It Up can serve as a reminder of our enduring and impudent desire to keep the chaotic universe in some kind of neat and serviceable order.
Despite its high anecdotal and amusement quotient, Jack Lynch’s fine book does deal with some fairly arcane material. Consequently, it should probably be enjoyed slowly rather than read straight through. Like so many reference-shelf classics, You Could Look It Up even invites browsing. A chapter or two in the evening could be just about right.