Smits, Jan M., ed., Elgar Encyclopedia of Comparative Law, 2nd ed. (Cheltenham, U.K. : Edward Elgar, 2012), 1017 pp., incl. index and introductory material. ISBN: 978-1-84980-415-8 (hardcover), $365.00
This single-volume encyclopedia, a collection of topical and location-specific essay-length entries on comparative law, is the second edition of a volume that was published in 2006 from the same editor. The location coverage is not as complete as one might like, and the price tag is quite steep, but there’s still plenty of coverage, particularly on the topical end, and this is the sort of resource for which there aren’t a great number of current alternatives in English. The primary market is probably comparative/international law faculty, although practitioners attempting to gain a working familiarity with a foreign jurisdiction will find certain portions of the encyclopedia useful. The quality of the writing is quite high, and the work reflects an appropriate amount of editorial control in order to keep the articles concise. Assuming the preface is correct about the “comparative law explosion” over the last 20 years, successive editions are likely, and you’ll probably be buying one of these every 6-7 years, so, factor that into your buying decision accordingly.
One of the work’s major selling points is its topical breadth. The encyclopedia’s coverage ranges from general essays on tort law or legal culture to more specific facets, such as accident compensation or transfer of movable property. It should also be noted that two of the topics, “Corporate Responsibility” and “Transnational Law, Evolving,” are new to this edition. Given that the bulk of comparative law treatises tend to specialize, it is nice to find a resource that gathers so much together under one cover. The authors, all law faculty or NGO officials, are presumably experts in their assigned subject areas, but the biographical/professional information is limited to a line or three on their current positions. I might have preferred a short biographical paragraph attached to each article. As far as the articles carried over from the first edition are concerned, either the original authors or new co-authors have been asked to update them to account for emerging issues over the last six years.
The selection of location-specific articles appears to reflect the serendipitous availability of an author who could write a concise article on the state of that country’s law. The vast majority are from European jurisdictions—perhaps a byproduct of the fact that the editor is on the faculty at Maastricht. This edition introduces articles on France, Turkey, Finland, and China, giving a sort of work-in-progress feel to this portion of the enterprise. Certainly, with a work like this, the logistical difficulty involved in getting articles covering every country would be monumental—particularly when political instability is factored in--but there are still some economically-active jurisdictions you might miss, like Indonesia or South Korea.
The organization of the encyclopedia is a reasonably intuitive alphabetical order, although certain topics might require a quick browse of the table of contents to see where they might be covered. Each essay comes complete with an extensive bibliography, so there’s no hunting in the back for further reading specific to the topic in which you’re interested. The encyclopedia also comes equipped with a lengthy index.
Certainly there is more thorough competition on the market—the Max Planck encyclopedias, for instance, were published last year, but at a much higher price point—the one on public international law, for instance, is ten volumes. The Elgar encyclopedia, however, represents perhaps the only current English publication on comparative law that covers so many topics under one volume. If your goal is a thumbnail sketch on the organization of various legal systems, their legal doctrines, and the current state of jurisprudence, then this volume has a lot going for it. I’d hesitate to call it comprehensive, but the relative lack of other similar offerings and the probable length of time between editions may justify the high price tag for you and your patrons.
David E. Matchen, Jr., is the Circulation/Reference Librarian at the University of Baltimore Law Library, and has more Cardinals than Cubs on his fantasy baseball team, for which he apologizes abjectly.
 Shout-out to Prof. Vernon Valentine Palmer of Tulane Law School, who wrote the “Mixed Jurisdictions” entry.