The encyclopedia once shaped our understanding of the world. Created by thousands of scholars and the most obsessive of editors, a good set conveyed a sense of absolute wisdom on its reader. Contributions from Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Orville Wright, Alfred Hitchcock, Marie Curie and Indira Gandhi helped millions of children with their homework. Adults cleared their shelves in the belief that everything that was explainable was now effortlessly accessible in their living rooms.
Now these huge books gather dust and sell for almost nothing on eBay. Instead, we get our information from our phones and computers, apparently for free. What have we lost in this transition? And how did we tell the progress of our lives in the past?
All the Knowledge in the World by Simon Garfield will be published on February 28, 2023. William Morrow provided an early galley for review.
Growing up in the 1970's, we had a set of encyclopedias (a set of Funk and Wagnalls in my brother's room). So did my aunt and uncle; theirs (an Encyclopedia Britannica set) was a few years older but much more comprehensive. When I couldn't find what I was looking for in either of those for my school research papers, it was off to the public library to look in theirs (always a bit more current). I have a fond devotion to these weighty tomes of knowledge. That's what drew me to this upcoming title.
First impressions: I really smiled at the fact that each chapter of the book has an alphabetic title. The reader literally goes from A to Z with this study; I think that's a clever touch. Within each chapter are then sections and entries that correspond to the chapter's starting letter as well as the overall theme of the chapter. It adds a level of design to the book that I really can get behind.
Garfield tells the story of the encyclopedia, from its earliest roots through its rise to a dominant position and then to its decline due to advances in technology. It is told in a fascinating, fact-filled manner that keeps the history lesson moving and engaging. Bibliophiles will find this one enjoyable.
Martin, like you I grew up with encyclopedias (my parents bought very early on and expected them to last forever) and lots of trips to the library. As glad as I am for the internet these days, I sure do miss those older days as well. I liked your review here, I'm putting this on my 'Books to Borrow' list from MY library.
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