Born in Leith, Wood studied at the University of Edinburgh and was ordained as a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, following the Disruption of 1843. His admiration for Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin may have contributed to his failure to secure the ministry of a congregation. Instead, he earned a living as a writer and editor and spent most of his life in Edinburgh.
Wood is described by P. J. E. Wilson as " that most conscientious of pedants".
In his anonymous The Strait Gate (1881), Wood says of himself that he should not be classed with the High churchmen, the Evangelicals, or the Broad churchmen. He had "no faith whatsoever" in the first group, "no true conception" of the second, and "a measure of sympathy" with the third, but added "…yet there are drawbacks which make it impossible for me to hail their movement with any warmth."
In 1867, Wood's Stories from Greek Mythology was published in London. Wood edited Nuttall's Standard Dictionary and The Nuttall Encyclopaedia. In 1881, he published anonymously The Strait Gate and Other Discourses, with a Lecture on Thomas Carlyle, by a Scotch Preacher, and in 1882 made the authorized translation of Auguste Barth's Religions of India. In 1893, after working on it for three years, he published his Dictionary of Quotations, later renamed as Nuttall's Dictionary of Quotations. He was also the author of Bagster & Sons' Helps to the Bible and a Carlyle School Reader.
- Stirling, Hutchison (1902). "Prefatory Note". Sartor Resartus. By Carlyle, Thomas. Wood, James (ed.). Vol. 1. London: J. M. Dent. pp. vii–xii. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
- Stirling 1902, pp.vii–viii
- Wilson, P. J. E. (14 January 1984). "Points: Definition of scurvy". British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Edition). 288 (6411): 152. doi:10.1136/bmj.288.6411.152-g. PMC 1443956.
- "The Strait Gate and other discourses; with a Lecture on Thomas Carlyle. By a Scotch Preacher" (review) in The Preacher's Monthly: a Storehouse of Homiletic Help, Vol. II (London: Lobb and Bertram, 1881), p. 399
- Rev. James Wood, Stories from Greek Mythology (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1867)
- Wood, James (1900). The Nuttall Encyclopaedia: Being a Concise and Comprehensive Dictionary of General Knowledge. London and New York: Frederick Warne & Co. p. iii. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
- Stirling 1902, p.ix
- OCLC 57460139
- Auguste Barth, The Religions of India. Authorised Translation by Rev. J. Wood (London: Houghton Mifflin, 1882)
- Shipps, Anthony W. (1990). The Quote Sleuth: A Manual for the Tracer of Lost Quotations. University of Illinois Press. p. 26. ISBN 9780252016950. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
- Works by or about James Wood at Wikisource
- Works by James Wood at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about James Wood at Internet Archive