Marc J. Rikmenspoel's Waffen-SS Encyclopedia is a tour-de-force piece of military history. Certainly encyclopedic in content but written with a literary flair that makes it readable - this is not Encyclopedia Britainica der Waffen-SS! Rikmenspoel wastes few words in the 285 pages of Waffen-SS Encyclopedia. For example, right at the outset he states that his purpose is not to "rehash, cut or paste material from previously published works to create a new volume on the subject", but rather to provide in one work a source of valuable and accurate information related to five basic topics: 1) the order of battle for various Waffen-SS formations; 2) the personnel makeup of these units - with added emphasis on "Germanic" formations; 3) summaries of some of the more notorious and decorated leaders of the Waffen-SS; 4) generalized and specialized weapons usage in various units; and 5) an introduction to some common misconceptions and controversial topics associated with the Waffen-SS. Rikmenspoel hits a home run on all counts!
The most encyclopedic portion of the book is the first section dedicated to the order of battle for various units (pp. 1-58) and structure of Waffen-SS divisions (pp. 59-82). As is inherent in this type of information, the facts are the facts. Rikmenspoel doesn't clutter the facts with a lot of non-sense drivel. Yet, he provides enough text to make this section readable. In addition to the dry facts (unit makeup, history of command, etc.) the author provides a synopsis of combat history and organization-reorganization of these combat units. These histories are expanded and tied together textually in later sections, thus tying in the "dry" matter (basic facts) with the "meaty" matter (larger stories). The section on weapon usage (pp. 235-250) is also a bit dry textually but provides ample information. Each of these encyclopedic sections is further supplemented for the reader with great photographs and illustrations - again not a la Encyclopedia Britainica, but tastefully and not wastefully.
The second and third sections of the book provide the most griping prose. The second section is divided between discussion of Germanic (pp. 83-180) and non-German/non-Germanic units (pp. 181-194) of the Waffen-SS, with the first section clearly providing the most interesting fodder for both the author and reader. Rikmenspoel has more than competently melded an information-rich treatise on the subject with minimal use of space and words. This in no way should imply that the author cut corners or did minimal research. Quite the contrary, Rikmenspoel simply condenses material to its minimal components that are necessary and sufficient for reader understanding and education. Few authors can take such information-dense material from disparate sources, rework it, and put it to paper in a readable prose that maintains the content sufficiently. Rikmenspoel can and has! Another perfect example of Rikmenspoel's talent is the third section of the book that is dedicated to some of the leading personalities of the Waffen-SS. Rikmenspoel chooses to deal not with just the most well known personalities (in fact he doesn't give space to some that might be expected based on previously published works), but with men who "deserve" to be discussed in an encyclopedia of the Waffen-SS - armed combat units. In brief, Rikmenspoel presents short histories of the major military leaders of the Waffen-SS, generally those most competent as soldier-leaders and sculptors of the armed SS, not simply those with the most notoriety. Again, this is a unique talent. Certainly some will feel that Rikmenspoel has "slighted" some personalities by not discussing them, but his narrative of lesser-known, but not lesser deserving leaders is worth more than "rehashing of previous works" (as the author himself states in his Introduction).
The last section of the book is by far the "hot potato" of Waffen-SS Encyclopedia as it deals with issues Rikmenspoel labels "misconceptions" and "controversies." Anytime an author attempts to examine the crimes of the Nazi regime and the role of the Waffen-SS he/she rides a razor edge. Rikmenspoel does not attempt to condemn or apologize for war crimes or the roles of Waffen-SS men. Rather he attempts to point out how historians and students alike can and should approach the subject objectively and with the proper mindset to make logical and historically accurate assessments. This section of the book could certainly be expanded further in a second volume - one can only hope!
If all of these things weren't enough, Rikmenspoel and Aberjona Press have provided the reader with an extra bonus is the form of an annotated bibliography. The author give a short synopsis of positive/negative attributes of works used to research the book. Too few authors provide this kind of insight into their own thoughts. Although clearly a serious historian, Rikmenspoel also gives away what is obviously a wonderful sense of humor in the annotation to one of his previous works (Soldiers of the Waffen-SS: Many Nations, One Motto)...you'll just have to pick up Waffen-SS Encyclopedia to see for yourself!
Waffen-SS Encyclopedia is a 5 star book from both the perspective of content and readability. Aberjona Press has yet another "classic" on its hands, and with Rikmenspoel, another talented historian in their stable. This book should be on the shelf of every serious student of WWII history with even a passing interest in the Waffen-SS.