16 NOVEMBER 2002, Page 46

Jonathan Sumption

This has been a year of completing some long-running multi-volume works, filling

gaps that have stood for years like missing teeth on my shelves. The 12th volume of the Pilgrim edition of The Letters of Charles Dickens (Clarendon Press, £80) completes one of the great feats of modern literary scholarship, a revelation of the character of an appalling man and his exceptional times. For the diligent (and rich) another fine work completed this year after decades of labour is the 11-volume Encyclopaedia of Islam (Brill, temporary special offer at approx. £2,500), the ultimate reference book on the history of a civilisation that spans 14 centuries and half the world, about which the other half is perversely ignorant. Neither of these is exactly fireside reading. For that I suggest Peter Spufford's Power and Profit: The Merchant in Mediaeval Europe (Thames & Hudson, £24.95), a short survey of a vast subject, reflective, well-written and beautifully illustrated.