The world is a complicated and changing place, with nations large and small cooperating and competing in trade, culture, and influence. Thankfully, a new guidebook places vital facts about every nation of the world at the fingertips of student and statesman alike. The World Today is a concise but comprehensive directory of the world's nations from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. This hefty volume provides thumbnail sketches of world powers and developing nations. Each nation's entry begins with a small map and vital statistics, including capital, population, and gross national product. The entries go on to list a wealth of useful information, beginning with a short historical sketch, which generally concentrates on the country's 20th-century developments but does not ignore major events or leaders from antiquity.

Overviews of territory and population, social statistics, and a description of the government follow. Summaries of the nation's economy, defense structure, natural resources, trade, industry, communications, social institutions (such as courts), and culture complete the entry. While it's hard to generate much excitement rattling off agricultural statistics, the historical summaries and descriptions of political institutions prevent the book from reading like a collection of box scores. The book is also a gold mine for trivia buffs and devotees of world history. If you're interested in the GNP of Denmark ($22,120 per capita, with a population of 5.32 million), the miles of paved road in Lebanon (6,265 km), the capital of the island nation of Palau (Koror), or the year the Silla dynasty succeeded in uniting Korea into a single kingdom (668 AD), The World Today places the facts at your disposal. Of course, as a printed book, the guide cannot reflect the most recent world events. (For example, it lists Nawaz Sharif as prime minister of Pakistan.) Still, changes will inevitably occur after such a book goes to press, and this does not detract from the book's impressive scope and timeliness. Whether you're a student preparing a school report, a journalist researching a new assignment, or a politician boning up for a pop quiz, The World Today can be your one source for complete and up-to-date information.

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor living in Indianapolis.

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