Remember when we used the Encyclopedia Brittanica?

I recently visited my parents in city far from mine. That feeling of having turned into a giant in a doll’s house has never left me. The place you grow up in always seems ridiculously small through adult eyes. When you are small, the space feels full of endless nooks and crannies.

One of the nooks I spent a lot of time in, was this one. It’s in the living room.


On the shelf below the Encyclopedia Brittanica are my father’s records. Both – encycolopedia and LP’s – now seem like such quaint artifacts.

For years I failed to “see” that shelf, but this time the Encyclopedia Brittanica hooked my eye. What a proud row of books – and how useful it was. It was the first and last source for every project from about the age of 11 onwards. Trips to the library provided the meat on the research sandwich.

I opened one up and was amused at how small the writing is. How was I not intimidated back then? But I wasn’t. Those books were (almost) all I needed for research and independent work at home.

I pulled down the book that promised to have an entry for “Encyclopedia” and found an eighteen page (!) entry.


The entry for "Encyclopedia" from the Encyclopedia Brittanica

The entry for “Encyclopedia” from the Encyclopedia Brittanica

An encyclopedia is: “a type of reference work or compendium holding a comprehensive summary of information from either all branches of knowledge or a particlar branch of knowledge”. 

Then I looked up “Encyclopedia Brittanica” on its modern incarnation, Wikipedia, and discovered the following:

  • In 2012 it was announced that the 2010 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica would be the last printed edition
  • It was first published between 1768 and 1771, in Edinburgh in Scotland and it ran to three volumes.
  • The final set was 32 volumes. It was the fifteenth edition and it ran to 32 640 pages.

I remember when my parents bought the Encyclopedia Brittanica that it was an enormous financial sacrifice. In retrospect, it seems like it was a good investment.

Francis Bacon's classification of knowledge

Francis Bacon’s classification of knowledge

  • (Watch Joey from Friends in the episode where he can afford only one volume of the Encyclopedia.)

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