Friday, September 11, 2015

An Ode to the Encyclopedia

The Encyclopedia...

Nifty Endtable
Raise your hand if you've ever owned a set of encyclopedias. I have. I would have to say that they were an integral part of my rearing as a child. I may have mentioned this before but while I was growing up my parents had a little study with a bookshelf. Prominent amidst the bookshelf were my father's old sets of encyclopedias. They were late 60's Golden Key of Knowledge, Encyclopedia Britannica and few others. I loved reading them. Well, I liked looking at all the cool pictures. But still that time spent laid the foundation for my appreciation of knowledge.

Cool Lampstand
Over the years those encyclopedias became mine and I added a few more as I entered high school. They were my mother's investment in my future. I would say that was money well spent. I often referenced them while working on my myriad reports and term papers. I still have all of them too. After several moves in my life I lugged all of them around. I just don't have the heart to get rid of them. The knowledge now available at my fingertips online well surpasses that dated knowledge. Still though they represent snapshots of knowledge and the world as we understood it. To me they still have value. Even if right now they all happen to still be in boxes.

Letter Inbox
Other people, well they are less attached to these strange books that used to be needed before the days of Wikipedia and WebMD. The followers of the great god Kindle no longer have a need for all the pernicious space hoggers. So those that have not consigned their old World Books to the nearest landfill or biomass facility have re purposed theirs in unique ways.

I wonder what Pliny the Elder, author of the Naturalis Historia, would think of this new age of modern convenience. Those ancient texts really took a concerted effort to make. Heck people 2000 years ago there was no telephone let alone a hand held smartphone with more computing power than the Moon landings. He had to travel all across the Roman Empire collecting stories, visiting libraries doing his best to weigh between fact and fiction. All the while guarding against the hubris of Man which he didn't care too much for.
Historia Naturalis
"Such is the audacity of man, that he hath learned to counterfeit Nature, yea, and is so bold as to challenge her in her work."
Would he value this great repository of knowledge at his fingertips which he helped set in motion ages ago?

As for encyclopedias themselves they still exist. World Book 2016 is on sale at their site. So while the heyday of needing to have a set of encyclopedias at the house is for all intents and purposes is over the chance to buy a set is still available. That little bit of knowledge I find pleasing. 



  1. We've got an old set from the '60s. I wish I'd kept the ones my parents had in the 1950s. I can picture them.

    Books are going to be valuable antiques someday, so hold onto them.

  2. I fully intend to do so. I used to have old dictionary from 1912 that I really wish I still had. One of those objects just lost to the chaos of life.