Q & A: Cambridge vs. R. L. Allan

Q. I am very fond of the NRSV and I see that you have reviewed both Allan's and the Cambridge NRSV. What is the difference with the leathers and which one would you prefer over the other?

Q. I'm looking to get an ESV bible and didn't know which to get. What is the main differences, if any, between R.L. Allan and Cambridge?

A. I'm grouping these two questions together, because they're representative of a common inquiry I receive ... the age-old Cambridge vs. R. L. Allan debate. First things first: when it comes to editions I've reviewed, I'm often tempted to quote a not-so-enviable source and say, "What I have written, I have written." As a rule, what I have to say about an edition is contained in the review, and if there's anything worth adding I'll append a comment. So if you send me an e-mail saying something like "I read your review of Bible X and was wondering what you think about it?" don't expect a quick reply. What I think about it is what I wrote.

But these questions don't fall into that category. As far as the NRSV is concerned, if you read my review of the Cambridge and compare it to my review of the R. L. Allan's, you'll see that I much preferred the latter. The goatskin cover isn't as flexible as the natural highland skins used in the R. L. Allan ESV1, but it is far nicer than the stiff French Morocco. Cambridge, however, offers other editions of the NRSV that might be worth checking out. I haven't received copies (yet), but when I do, I'll write about them, knowing that the hunt for a quality NRSV is getting to be difficult these days.

On the larger Cambridge vs. Allan question, here's what you need to know. I prefer the R. L. Allan bindings, both in terms of style and quality, but Cambridge is still competitive -- especially when it comes to paper quality. Since R. L. Allan is rebinding text blocks sourced from publishers, paper varies. While I'm sure there are folks who would argue with me, I find Cambridge paper consistently good. (I'm not saying "the best its ever been," but quite good in comparison with what's out there.)

The deciding factor is actually format. For portability, the Pitt Minion is excellent, and if you're looking for a wide margin, then Cambridge has you covered. The best all-around ESV reference Bible right now is the R. L. Allan ESV1, and the upcoming Allan's edition of the ESV Personal Size Reference will give the Pitt Minion a run for its money. But both publishers offer high quality editions, and you're not going wrong with either. Choose the format that best suits your needs.