Today, Wikipedia Wins
There are better written resources than Wikipedia on the stodgier subjects, and these textbooks, treatises and dissertations are easier on the eyes, to boot. However, when it comes to decoding contemporary, contentious and continuous phenomena, Wikipedia shines brighter than the bulk of published works.
The official historical consensus is a work in progress, and it won’t be readable for another generation — I write this because The Complete Book of Presidents was more completely a disaster once it reached the two latest presidents.
While it includes a relatively succinct analysis of the 1992 presidential campaigns, it includes a tidbit about how Bill Clinton plays the tenor saxophone “very well.” I’ll let the readers judge that particular horror on their own.
Even worse, where the other presidents had their notable achievements broken up by topic — Van Buren had a section on the Aroostook War (1839); Grant on the Treaty of Washington (1871) — Clinton’s chapter featured a full 10 pages of chronologically ordered but otherwise nonsensical laundry list, followed, fortunately, by a far more interesting 10 pages on Clinton’s scandals and impeachment.
Owing either to disorganization or built-in biases, neither section would pass editorial muster on Wikipedia. Even better, if the original copy were written in a laundry list, publishing the words doesn’t cement them onto a page. Someone with more time on his hands than the original author could take it upon himself on some lonely November weeknight to Wikify it — toss out unwarranted original analysis, organize all relevant information, find appropriate amounts of citation.
For high-profile current events, an area where public opinions very quickly change, Wikipedia has the high ground.
Remarkable, too: By definition, Wikipedia is just another work in progress.