Anyone looking for information on the society and culture of a country will find this quality site a good place to start. It is an online version of the invaluable Country Studies/Area Handbook series sponsored by the Department of the Army and prepared by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. Although not all of the Handbook series countries are yet available online, this site does contain profiles for 85 countries with the implicit promise of more.
Do not expect to find the latest economic data or political events about countries here. Most of the information was updated in 1994 or before. This site does provide an in depth look at the geography, politics, history, social welfare, and economy of each country. But the real strength of the Handbook series lies in its concentration on the social and cultural aspects of countries, information that is often very difficult to find through other means. In fact, the authors devote particular attention to "the people who make up the society, their origins, dominant beliefs and values, their common interests and the issues on which they are divided, the nature and extent of their involvement with national institutions, and their attitudes toward each other and toward their social system and political order."
This site, which has vastly improved in the past year, is uncluttered and simple to use. One may browse the table of contents for a specific country which links to sections of modest (and printable) length. Each section contains header and/or footer links for easy navigation throughout the document. In addition, the documents contain maps, pictures, and handy links to a glossary which defines such things as acronyms, monetary conversions, and political terms. And at this site, there is never a doubt about authority and currency: each section is signed and dated. The search engine provided allows one to search across all or selective countries or even within a country document using a specific keyword or phrase. The resulting search display makes it easy to judge relevance at a glance.
The main drawback of this site is that not all the books in the print series have made it to this online version. Some notables missing are Germany, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Mexico. In addition, the series itself ignores many, perhaps more familiar, Western countries such as France, Sweden, and United Kingdom. But many of the countries found here, such as Seychelles and Bhutan, do tend to be less well represented elsewhere and for that reason alone this site is worthwhile. Students investigating culture for communication, business, and other classes will find this an invaluable, quick spot to visit on the Web.
Reference and Systems Librarian