This set consists of brief biographical sketches of more than 2,000 North Americans of the past and present, written for middle- and high-school students. Most are one or two pages in length, with only the very famous (e.g., Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison) occupying three pages
Each volume focuses on a broad subject area, such as activists, athletes, entrepreneurs and inventors, performing artists, and political and military leaders. The basis for assigning a biography to a particular volume is not always obvious. William Howard Taft, for instance, is included in the "Scholars and Educators" volume even though he is better known as a president and judge. A general index in volume 10 solves this problem. Entries are arranged alphabetically by biographee's surname. Each volume has a table of contents, a glossary, an index, and a bibliography that includes both sources and suggestions for further reading. Most listings are standard biographical reference works and individual and group biographies intended for general readership
Writing is consistently interesting and easy to understand. Black-and-white portraits of the biographees are frequently included. Within the brief space available for each entry, there is a good balance of important and interesting information. Entries appear to be accurate. Although the set bears a 1994 copyright, it is not the place to look for the latest information. There is very little 1993 information, and many biographies of still-active people record no information more recent than the 1980s. The covers on the set are attractive, but the binding may not prove adequate for the kind of use the set is likely to receive in school libraries
The basis of selection is not obvious, as many well-known people have been left out in favor of less well known people. The introduction claims that the set "reveals the range and power of our rich cultural heritage," and fulfilling this goal may have made including people from different strata of society more important than including the most famous. There does seem to be a bias in favor of women. Elizabeth Dole is included, while her somewhat better known and more powerful husband is not. Hilary Rodham Clinton is included, but not Al Gore. This bias, however, may actually serve a research purpose, since many works already available are biased the other way
Libraries serving schoolchildren fifth grade and up will find this set useful, especially if they lack extensive biographical reference tools. Other libraries may find it useful for ease of access or additional references.