Encyclopedias

This is a repost of my  YC news comment on the subject.  Lame reposting is not a capital offense (yet...)

My first encyclopedia when I was young was a CD-ROM edition of Britannica. It had a superficially deep article on almost everything, and made for endless hours of joyful exploration. Then one day I found a complete 1958 paper edition of the Britannica in a dumpster - in perfect condition, no dirt or damage. It was an entirely different world. The degree to which it surpassed the digital edition defies description. The articles on various machines, chemical reactions, fortifications, etc. seemed detailed enough to replicate all of these wonders with my own hands, had I the time or resources. The coverage of most historical events seemed intellectually top-notch and well-researched.

That was when I first understood that the transition to digital media is not an unmitigated good, and that much is being lost - without many people necessarily noticing. I still have the 1958 Britannica, and I intend to keep it for the rest of my days. Some of the articles inside (in particular, on mathematical concepts) are unmatched in their quality by Wikipedia or even Wolfram MathWorld.

This entry was written by Stanislav , posted on Sunday May 03 2009 , filed under Books, NonLoper, Progress . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

5 Responses to “Encyclopedias”

  • Ted Henry says:

    A common thread of nostalgia and "the old days were better" appears in your writing.

  • Brent says:

    Just wait until you get your hands on an 11th edition.

  • Kushne says:

    Growing up, my primary source of education was Dad's 1964 Edition of the Brittannica. Years later, I bought a 1976 Edition, and had the opportunity to buy a 1991 edition: but passed it up as the informational depth of the articles had shrunk. Every later edition got worse. Not surprisingly, they have finally stopped publishing a paper edition.
    A real tragedy.

  • trashcollector says:

    I obtained an incomplete set of the Japanese version of McGraw-hill encyclopedia of science and technology 1965 from the trash can at the civic library. I was surprised it was so wonderful.
    Subsequent editions have never been translated into Japanese.
    I think we can see the foolish "conceit" of the Japanese who believe that they have already caught up with the world in science and technology.

    • Stanislav says:

      Dear trashcollector,

      Paper encyclopedias AFAIK peaked at around that time (i.e. not only long before WWW, but before they became primarily a "status collectible" for the quasi-literate and consequently began to get abridged/cheapened.)

      And they win over the "modern" variant in quite a few ways: 0 ads, 0 spamola, 0 "edit wars," and the political cant -- if any -- tends to be overt rather than today's subtle and annoyingly all-permeating psyop. I'll take e.g. Большая советская энциклопедия over Pediwikia any day of the week.

      Yours,
      -S

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