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Who's Who is a source of biographical data on more than 33,000 influential people from around the world. Published annually since 1849, and as of 2020 in its 172nd edition, it lists people who influence British life, according to its editors. Entries include judges, civil servants, politicians and notable figures from academia, sport and the arts.
Each entry in Who's Who is authored by the subject who is invited by the editors to fill in a questionnaire. Entries typically include full names, dates of birth, career details, club memberships, education, professional qualifications, publications, recreations and contact details.
Biographies in Who's Who
Subjects include peers, MPs, judges, very senior civil servants, and distinguished writers, actors, lawyers, scientists, researchers, athletes and artists. Some (such as those holding a professorial chair at Oxbridge) are included automatically by virtue of their office; those in less hierarchical occupations are included at the discretion of the editors.
Inclusion in Who's Who, unlike many other similar publications, has never involved any payment by or to the subject, or even any obligation to buy a copy. Inclusion has always been by perceived prominence in public life or professional achievement. Inclusion has therefore come to carry a considerable level of prestige. Paul Levy stated in The Wall Street Journal in 1996 that an entry in Who's Who "really puts the stamp of eminence on a modern British life".
Once someone is included in Who's Who he or she remains in it for life, so for example MPs are not removed when they leave Parliament. The 7th Earl of Lucan is still listed in the book, even though he has been missing since 1974 and was declared legally dead in 1999.
The publication is dominated by people who are active in British public life, including the members of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, as well as Members of the House of Commons, the chief executives of all UK cities and counties, and foreign ambassadors accredited to London. There is a high proportion of Oxford and Cambridge (Britain's most prestigious universities) graduates among the new entrants. The publication was criticised in The Spectator in 2004 for its lack of inclusion of well known celebrities, sports personalities, solicitors, and many of Britain's wealthiest people.
The entries are compiled from questionnaires returned to the publisher by the featured subjects. Some checks are made by the editors but subjects may say or omit anything they wish. For example, the playwright John Osborne did not acknowledge an estranged daughter in his entry; Carole Jordan does not mention any marriage in her article, although her ex-husband, Richard Peckover, did in his. Jeremy Paxman has also calculated that only 8% of new entrants in 2008 made any reference to marital breakdown, which is far below the national average.
However, by asking the people themselves to submit a short biography, this sometimes leads to them including tidbits that would not otherwise be known, and allows the subject to show something of his or her character, rather than being a curriculum vitae, especially in the descriptions of "recreations". From conventional references to fishing, reading or opera (which still feature prominently), listed recreations have included: "Maintaining rusty old cars" (Alastair Balls), "Generally fomenting the overthrow of capitalism" (the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell), "Anglophobia" (Christopher Murray Grieve) and "Contemplating revenge" (Stephen Chambers). In some instances, there is an excess of detail; the prolific romantic novelist Dame Barbara Cartland listed each of her publications, many hundreds of books, together with a list of her other achievements; the result was one of the longest entries in the book's history.
Who Was Who
When the subject of a Who's Who entry dies, the biography is transferred to the next volume of Who Was Who, where it is usually printed as it appeared in its last Who's Who, with the date of death added.
The first volume of Who Was Who covered deaths between 1897 and 1915. They were then published at 10-year intervals, and since 1990 at five-year intervals.
Who Was Who series:
- 1897–1915, 1988 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2670-4
- 1916–1928, 1992 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-3143-0
- 1929–1940, 1967 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-0171-X
- 1941–1950, 1980 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2131-1
- 1951–1960, 1984 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2598-8
- 1961–1970, 1979 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-2008-0
- 1971–1980, 1989 reprint: ISBN 0-7136-3227-5
- 1981–1990: 1991 ISBN 0-7136-3336-0
- 1991–1995: 1996 ISBN 0-7136-4496-6
- 1996–2000: 2001 ISBN 0-7136-5439-2
- 2001–2005: 2006 ISBN 0-7136-7601-9
- 2006–2010: 2011 ISBN 9781408146583
- 2011–2015: 2016 ISBN 9781472924322
Academic Who's Who
The Academic Who's Who was a spin off from the main Who's Who by the same publisher. The first edition of The Academic Who's Who for 1973 to 1974 was published by Adam & Charles Black in London in 1973, and distributed in New York by Bowker. The second edition for 1975 to 1976 was published by Adam & Charles Black in London in 1975, and distributed in Detroit by Gale Research. The subtitle of the Academic Who's Who is University Teachers in the British Isles in the Arts, Education and Social Sciences. The second edition contained biographies of almost seven thousand academics.
Who's Who has been published since 1849. It was originally published by Baily Brothers. Since 1897, it has been published by A & C Black. From 1849 to 1850, Who's Who was edited by Henry Robert Addison, from 1851 to 1864 by Charles Henry Oakes, from 1865 by William John Lawson and from 1897 to 1899 by Douglas Brooke Wheelton Sladen. Subsequent editions do not disclose the identity of their editor.
Originally, it merely provided lists of the names of notable people, for example all members of parliament and all bishops. Beginning with the 1897 edition, it listed people alphabetically and provided fuller biographical details.
A full online edition of the work was launched in 2005. However, it continues to be published annually in hard copy.
A history of Who's Who was published to coincide with the 150th edition in 1998. "Preface with a Brief History 1849–1998" was included in Who's Who 1998.
Use of the Who's Who title and approach
Many similar publications have been produced, often with Who's Who in the title such as Marquis Who's Who, claiming to list notable people in some region or field. Some such publications provide trustworthy information on people who are indeed notable; others list people in a way designed to make money for the publisher with no regard to reliable information on notability: Who's Who scams.
The name is also often used metaphorically, as in this example from an Associated Press wire article about Los Angeles cemeteries:
Los Angeles, Spanish for "The City of Angels," has one of the world's greatest collections of cemeteries and memorial parks in the world. A who's who of what was.
- Bloomsbury.com. "Bloomsbury - Who's Who". www.bloomsbury.com.
- "Who's Who and Who Was Who Online". oup.com.
- "Who's Who". ukwhoswho.com.
- Paul Levy. "(Sex) Lives and Deaths of British Worthies". Wall Street Journal. 9 August 1996.
- "Lord Lucan 'officially dead'", BBC News Online, 27 October 1999.
- Paxman, Jeremy (1 December 2007). "Who's new in Who's Who?". The Daily Telegraph.
- Rosenbaum, Martin; Crick, Michael (10 July 2004). "How to get into Who's Who". The Spectator.
- "PAXMAN, Jeremy Dickson". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2015 (online ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
- "BALLS, Alastair Gordon". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2015 (online ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
- "Subscribe to read". Financial Times. Cite uses generic title (help)
- "GRIEVE, Christopher Murray". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2015 (online ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
- "CHAMBERS, Stephen Lyon". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2015 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
- For a scan of the first edition, see Google Books:  .
- "Some recent additions to the Library", ACU Bulletin of Current Documentation, Issues 12-41, page 30 (Association of Commonwealth Universities) Google Books
- For reviews of The Academic Who's Who, see (1973) 49 International Affairs 529 (RIIA) JSTOR; "Academic Who's Who", Glasgow Herald, City Edition, 10 February 1973, p 8, col 2; "Academic Who's Who" (1978) 8 British Studies Monitor 53  ; The Library Journal Book Review 1973, p 1 ; "The Academic Who's Who 1973-1974" (1974) 70 Book Review Digest 3 ; "Reference" (1973) 10 Choice 593 ; (1976) 13 Choice 296 (Issues 1 to 7) ; (1976) 101 Library Journal 2268 ; "Dictionary of academics", ACU Bulletin of Current Documentation, Issues 1-11, p 20 ; (1973) British Book News 286 . For other commentary, see Elizabeth M Moys, Manual of Law Librarianship, BIALL, 1976, pp 410 & 411,  Second Edition, GK Hall, 1987, pp 373 & 381 ; Bohdan S Wynar (ed), "641. The Academic Who's Who 1975-1976" in American Reference Books Annual 1977, Libraries Unlimited, 1977, vol 8, p 311 ; "Educators and Scholars" (1975) 2 Readers Advisory Service 60 (Issues 76 to 150) ; (1973) 1 Reference Services Review 9 ; Ronald H Fritze, Brian E Coutts and Louis Andrew Vyhnanek, Reference Sources in History: An Introductory Guide, ABC-CLIO, Second Edition, 2004, p 208.
- "More about Who's Who". OUP.
- "Albert Nelson Marquis" in "Obituary Notes" (1944) 145 Publishers Weekly 130 Google Books
- Frederic Boase. "Addison, Henry Robert" in Modern English Biography. 1892. Volume 1. Page 1819. 
- Frederic Boase. "Oakes, Charles Henry" in Modern English Biography. 1897. Volume 2. Page 1871.
- "Who's Who". National Library of Australia Catalogue.
- Margaretta Jolly (ed). "Who's Who" in Encyclopedia of Life Writing: Autobiographical and Biographical Forms. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. 2001. Routledge. 2013. ISBN 157958232X. Volume 1. Page 939.
- Vernon, David (2007), "What Price Fame? Be a Very Important Person – all it takes is money", The Skeptic, 27, p. 16.
- Warner, Gary A (28 December 2005), "LA cemeteries a who's who of celebrities", USA Today, AP via The Orange County Register, retrieved 27 June 2007.
- Richard Fitzwilliams. "Who's Who: A Book that Speaks Volumes". Sunday Express. 6 December 2010.
- Crick and Rosenbaum. "How to get into Who’s Who". The Spectator. 10 July 2004.
- "What's What of Who's Who". Western Mail. 15 December 2001. TheFreeLibrary.
- "How to get in Who's Who". BBC. 18 January 2001.
- "Reviewed work: Who's Who". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 92 (4676): 618–619. 1944. JSTOR 41362125.
- "Reviewed work: Who's Who 1940; the Writers' and Artists' Year Book 1940; the Official Year Book of the Scientific and Learned Societies of Great Britain and Ireland". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 88 (4558): 502. 1940. JSTOR 41402209.
- "Reviewed work: Who's Who, 1938". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 86 (4449): 355. 1938. JSTOR 41361252.
- "Reviewed work: Who's Who, 1937". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 85 (4388): 168. 1936. JSTOR 41360910.
- "Reviewed work: Whitaker's Almanack, 1915; Who's Who, 1915". The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. 26 (143): 216–217. 1915. JSTOR 859969.
- "Reviewed work: Who's Who, 1910; Who's Who Year Book, 1910; the Writers' and Artists' Year Book, 1910; the Englishwoman's Year Book, 1910". The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. 16 (82): 237. 1910. JSTOR 858036.
- "Reviewed work: Who's Who, 1909; the English-Woman's Year Book and Directory, G. E. Mitton; Who's Who Year-Book for 1909; the Writer's and Artist's Year-Book, 1909". The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. 14 (70): 249. 1909. JSTOR 857772.
- (1903) 19 Law Quarterly Review 109 Internet Archive Google Books
- (1903) 37 Law Journal 611 Google Books
- "Current Literature", The Spectator, 4 February 1865, p 20 
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