Chinese characters explained
Illustrated Account of Chinese Characters (漢字圖解)
(Chinese-English bilingual edition with Traditional Chinese characters)
Compiled by Guanghui Xie (謝光輝)
Joint Publishing, Hong Kong, 2003
Cost: NT$700 at Hess Bookstore, Wenhua Road, Banqiao
There are many books on the market that try to explain Chinese characters. This is by far the best one I have ever seen.
Each page contains the character with pinyin written above it. There is a commentary in Chinese and English. An illustration and older forms of the character help to show the character's origin and evolution. The ancient forms of the characters in the book include Oracle Bone inscriptions (甲骨文), Bronze inscriptions (金文) and Seal scripts (小篆). There is often a few common words listed that use the character, too. This can be seen in the sample texts (click on the pictures to see a larger image).
There are 652 entries so a wide variety of characters are covered, not just the commonly used radicals. The characters are arranged into the following categories: the human body, appliances, architecture, animals, plants, nature and miscellanea. There are also indexes using pinyin and stroke numbers.
I have found the book useful to better understand some of the more abstract and difficult characters and radicals. For while it is not really difficult to understand why 木 (mù) means wood, how do you begin to make sense of something like 藝 (yì), which means art or skill?
The book is very easy to pick up and just flick through or it could be used for more systematic study. This book would be a useful reference for learners of all levels.