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I estimate that generally the latest edition of a book is preferred unless you're after collection value or if an older version is preferred for some reason, for example due to original cover. In non-fiction new or updated chapters may be added. Translated fiction literature perhaps sees the most revisions. But even if the new edition has only been expanded by the author, the differences are still valuable information to be had and can be used to compare the book to its release period.

How can I find information about the editions of a book?

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    Welcome to Literature SE! Could you edit to clarify exactly what you're asking about? You want to find information - what sort of information? - about the editions of a book. As you note, the answer may differ among different types of book; is there a particular category (fiction, non-fiction, etc.) that you're interested in?
    – Rand al'Thor
    May 20 '18 at 20:45
  • @Randal'Thor: No, this is a general question about the editions of books. I want to know how the editions differ and I'm looking for a resource.
    – user4546
    May 20 '18 at 20:52
  • Like the difference between the "male" and "female" versions of Dictionary of the Khazars? Editions of Leaves of Grass? Sounds like something Google will be able to provide one day, at least for work in the public domain!
    – DukeZhou
    May 21 '18 at 20:29
  • Good question. I've found that online booksellers can be of some help in this regard. E.g., Amazon or AbeBooks.com can be of some help assuming that multiple editions are being sold and one drills down to the publication details. Online library catalogs such as the New York Public Library's are another useful benchmark (catalog.nypl.org). While I've never used it for this purpose it's also likely that the US Library of Congress would be of use.
    – DJohnson
    May 24 '18 at 17:20
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It depends on whether you are interested in lifetime editions or posthumous editions. There are, for example, three lifetime editions of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818, 1823, and 1831); but there are hundreds of posthumous editions, variously based on these three. What makes a lifetime edition preferable is a very different set of factors than what makes a posthumous edition preferable.

Assessing a lifetime edition involves several subjective and objection considerations. The main subjective consideration is which edition seems to best express what the author was going for. There is general agreement among modern scholars, for example, that the 1802 edition of Maria Edgeworth's Belinda is a more faithful expression of her intentions than the 1810 edition, from which she eliminated an inter-racial marriage due to critical backlash. Other cases are more ambiguous. Are we interested in the author's original vision or in their more mature re-envisioning of the work? That, again, is subjective and depends on your reasons for reading that particular work. Some scholars prefer the 1818 version of Frankenstein, while others prefer the third, 1831 edition. More objective considerations include whether the edition is clean or full of printer errors, whether there is evidence that the author got to see it and revise it, and so on.

Assessing a posthumous edition is a completely different affair. When I'm looking for a good modern edition of Frankenstein, I am interested in the quality of the critical apparatus -- the introduction, the notes, any appendixes. I am also interested in who prepared the edition; was it prepared by a professional scholar on the basis of lifetime editions, or just taken from the internet by the press? A good posthumous edition should explain which lifetime edition it is using, and ideally also explain the differences between lifetime editions as well as the reasons for choosing one over the others. The Oxford World's Classics series, for example, always includes a "Note on the Text" giving an account of the lifetime editions and the editor's decisions. Editions of Shakespeare should be particularly explicit in this regard, as editing Shakespeare's plays often involves combining different existing versions into a compound. A modern edition of Hamlet is usually a mixture between three early editions.

The best place to identify lifetime editions prior to the 1800s is the English Short Title Catalogue: http://estc.bl.uk/F/?func=file&file_name=login-bl-estc. Which edition is best varies by case, and the only way to figure that out is to consult the specialized literature on that particular item.

Determining which is the best posthumous edition involves research of a different type. For many authors there is a "standard" modern edition that scholars tend to prefer. For Austen, that's the Cambridge edition; for Samuel Johnson it's the Yale edition. A good paperback (say, Penguin, Norton, or Oxford) should tell you what the standard edition is. Most readers don't need the standard edition, which is expensive and targeted at academic libraries rather than individual readers. For most of us, a good paperback with an introduction and notes is good enough.

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Your question "How can I find information about the editions of a book?" has no simple general answer. There is a whole field of learning devoted to it: "bibliography". Basic questions in that field are: what are the various editions of such and such a book, where and when did they appear, what are the relationships between them, what are the differences between them?

The answers here depend on the purpose of the questions. Often, for instance, publishers will print essentially the same book with identical contents but different title-and-copyright pages showing (say) London as the place of publication of the one edition and New York as the other. For some purposes I suppose this counts as one edition, for others, as two.

Depending on the era, and kind of book, and importance of the book, there might be shortcuts. Library catalogs often help a lot. For very recent books (after the invention of the ISBN, say) there are various databases used by the book-selling industry. You can ask experts in the subject matter of the book in question. For instsance, if I wanted to know about the various editions of the work of the cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, I'd ask a friend who is a scholarly Peanuts fiend.

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