I bought the only physical encyclopedia still in print

sohkamyung | 297 points

>Later, I introduced the encyclopedia to my kids. They had never used a print encyclopedia, and they looked at me like I was an alien, almost as if I were speaking a different language (such a trite expression, but man, is it accurate). I had hoped they could use the encyclopedia as an old-fashioned reference, but so far, they have completely and utterly rejected it, not even expressing interest or opening it once. That aspect of my plans for the encyclopedia has been a big failure.

The kids' reaction makes perfect sense to me and I grew up with an encyclopedia set in the house.

My family was poor so we couldn't afford the "nice" encyclopedia sets like Encyclopaedia Britannica. Instead, my mom bought the Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia one-letter-at-a-time from the grocery store. E.g., the grocery store didn't have the entire A-to-Z set at the store. What happened was volume 'A' would be in the aisle near the checkout. You add that one book to your grocery chart. (One book wouldn't blow the whole household budget.) A few weeks later, the volume 'B' would appear. After a few months, you'd eventually end up with entire A to Z set. F&W was the "more affordable" encyclopedia and they brilliantly set up a "installment payment plan" by tapping into mom's weekly shopping habits. Very clever strategy to use supermarkets as the sales channel instead of commissioned door-to-door salesmen. But even that was too much money for us and my mom couldn't afford the entire set in one year. So the volumes she missed had to wait until next year with a new print edition which was a different color. So our encyclopedia set was a Frankenstein set combining different years. A lot of older HN readers will know what I'm talking about.

I used that F&W extensively in school but I don't wish I had another set of books in the house. Today's Wikipedia is much better. It covers thousands of other niche subjects that a limited set like F&W could ever possibly include. And extensive hyperlinks to see how topic-X-leads-to-topic-Y.

jasode | a year ago

My parents had Encyclopedia Britannica and I'm convinced that was a huge benefit to me that I'm still realizing today. I was born in 1965 and can remember even in elementary school any time I had a question my parents couldn't answer we'd look it up in the EB. Pretty soon I was habituated to just go there on my own and look up anything. When bored I'd pull out a random volume and just flip through it looking for anything that caught my eye.

I'm sure that was no small expense for my parents, but it really was an investment in us kids!

It's wonderful having access to all that and more on your phone, but there was something special about that long row of brown volumes. I was always excited when the annual supplement came; my brother and I would flip through it to see what new knowledge had been discovered!

F00Fbug | a year ago

In the 80's the encyclopedia filled the same niche that a smartphone does for me now. Whenever I had a small number of minutes to kill I grabbed a random volume and flipped open to a random page.

bryanlarsen | a year ago

>When she saw the large photo of a shark spread across the spines of the 22 volumes, she frowned and said, "I don't want to see a big-ass shark every day when I walk in the room."

I've got to be honest, reading this I went through a similar range of emotions as the author: Surprise that a print encyclopedia still exists, curiosity about it, and a nibbling desire to buy one. But I gotta agree with his wife: I don't want a huge shark photo on my bookshelf. It seems like an odd thing to force on a $1200 purchase, especially when it could easily be put on dust covers that could be removed to leave a more austere, proper looking reference book.

dabluecaboose | a year ago

The original Encyclopedias in the 1700s was a major catalyst similar in impact to the internet for us. Especially when specialized ones developed in the 19th century. The cool thing about using a Encyclopedia is the random encounters with things outside of your initial search. I'd argue it has a higher information density in your field of view when you look at a pair of pages. Of course I'm an early Gen-X who continued to use research libraries well into the 21st century. I still advise youth to use library time as part of research as the serendipity of finding other information both within you interest in the general shelf area, seeing similar periodicals and even just other articles within a journal. And any university's reference sections are loaded with simply amazing stuff ontop of their information index subscriptions.

Projectiboga | a year ago

This got my attention. I recall reading my World Book encyclopedia back when I was a kid in the 1950s for many, many absorbing hours. Tremendous enjoyment.

I see that Amazon's selling the 2023 edition for $1200 BUT World Book is selling the 2022 edition new for $500 and the 2021 edition new for $400. There are many eBay sellers offering the 2020 edition used for $300.

This might be the best present EVER for my now 7-year-old grandson who can read but whose parents limit his iPad use to 1 hour/day.

bookofjoe | a year ago

In Germany the „Brockhaus Enzyklopädie“ used to have its place in every academic house hold. The 24 volume version filled an entire cupboard on its own, cost thousands but looked great with the volumes’ red shaded back and golden rims. Especially historic and technical articles were quite large and detailed and helped me with many homework assignments in the age before the Internet. They were much better than the typical CD-ROM based encyclopedias.

I am lucky to own the last print edition from back in 2006 (inherited from my father) that even contains an entry explaining what „Wikipedia“ is. My kids never want to use it. It’s depressing and amusing at the same time.

G3rn0ti | a year ago

We have an old set, and some friends were over with their third grader, who had to write a report. She tried using wikipedia, but it popped up a 30 page article on an advanced topic she was trying to find a definition of.

I handed her the encyclopedia, and showed her how to look up the word. One paragraph later, she said "that's EXACTLY what I needed."


hedora | a year ago

I don't find modern encyclopedias interesting, but the older encyclopedias (and textbooks) are fascinating. Specifically I love reading entries before major changes to a field. Like cells in 1950, right before the double helix structure of DNA was discovered. Or Germany in the inter war period, when everyone knew it was unstable, but no one was quite sure what that meant.

lifefeed | a year ago

Born in the late 90s, I spent an absurd amount of time on wikipedia in my teens. It's lack of depth on common topics at the time led me to libraries and the world of books.

As an adult, it's amazing to see how far Wikipedia has come. In spite of its perennial and well-documented issues, it has to be one of humanity's biggest accomplishments.

I think teaching "the youth" how to efficiently investigate and retrieve information is probably one of the best skills we can pass on. In 2023, I'm not sure if there's much utility for a "generic" encyclopedia in that skill tree. Although encyclopedias with an intentionally-constrained focus are still pretty valuable, IME.

gen220 | a year ago

I loved reading my grandfather's 1980s edition World Book when visiting, pre internet. There was something kind of magical about that much information in one place at the time, but at a house instead of a library!

Edit: I also remember browsing the Macintosh version of the Encyclopedia Britannica as one of my first school computer activities.

RegularOpossum | a year ago

My quiet, somewhat socially anxious mother sold World Book door to door in the late sixties to get her family a copy for free. I really think those volumes were greatly responsible for the positive trends in my life. I loved reading the World book and following where the bread crumbs led. As I write this more comes back- I remember "E" was probably the best starting point with all the electricity articles. Amazingly, although not detailed, the recipe for gunpowder was there. Ah the memories :) Thank you World Book and most of all Thank You Mom!!

zafka | a year ago

> At a time when most information comes to us for free online (with strings attached, of course), it's easy to have sticker shock at the $1,199 retail price for the 2023 edition of World Book, although shoppers might occasionally find it for as low as $799 on Amazon (to compare, the online subscription costs $250 per year)

I understand that there is some economy of scale issue. (I would expect them to have very few buyers) But this price is hard to justify. Does it cost $949 to print and ship, when comparing the online edition to the physical edition?

acatton | a year ago

If you're old, when we were kids we needed encyclopedias to read anything (esp. nonfiction.) You can't understand a book if you don't know any of its references, and you're not going to go to the library to look up all of them. All you had is what you'd stored up in your head, and the encyclopedias in the basement.

They were nice to kill idle time following references, just like Wikipedia is now, but they were essential for reading nonfiction at home.

pessimizer | a year ago

> Opening up a volume of the World Book took me back in time.

> ...

> As for its content, the 2023 edition doesn't shy away from the contemporary.

Yeah, there's a weird schism there. I am considering now trolling the local thrift stores and antique malls for a complete encyclopedia set — but one perhaps from the 70's or 80's. I'll save a bundle and can go back to a world that frankly seemed a lot more optimistic.

JKCalhoun | a year ago

> in print form, accessible to all

That's a contradiction, albeit surely an unintentional one. Only electronic text is fully and automatically accessible to the blind, visually impaired, and dyslexic. I assume that in this context, "accessible to all" is intended to mean that it's accessible to people without computers. How big a problem is that these days?

mwcampbell | a year ago

I had a number of volumes of really nice looking books on the shelf growing up. There was the encyclopedia set which was ok, but also collections of stories, museum collections, city reference books. They're great because you can grab anything and usually find interesting well written good quality content. Even the worst of them, and there are bad books, are at least well written.

Anyway, I recently found out the volumes were selected by my architect uncle to coordinate with the built-in bookshelves. They were just intended as a visual prop, but I've taken a few of the classics and museum sets with me and still enjoy flipping through.

aimor | a year ago

Many older generation scholars had the same gut feeling about the 1911 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and claimed, with some justice, that it was the last “truly” comprehensive summary of human knowledge.

Of course this was due to the mismatch between the maximum practical and economical size of an encyclopedia and the rate of gain of knowledge beginning in the early 20th century.

When I was 23 years old in 1976 I won a $125 award at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley for a faster way to stock the wards. I bought a gorgeous leather-bound gilt-edged copy of the 1911 Britannica for precisely $125 at a huge used bookstore in downtown Oakland—-all 29 volumes, each volume just under 1000 pages.

That 11th edition has always held a place of honor in our home (well, my significant other does not have quite the same warm feelings as I do since $125 was a bucket-load of money when we were getting started).

It makes for interesting reading.

It would be amusing to add the World Book encyclopedia of 2044 to the collection although I doubt my kids or grandkids would be quite as amused as me.

robwwilliams | a year ago

I still possess my grandfather's 1911 Encylopedia Britannica. I didn't fully realize just how old it was until I looked up Nicholas II and the entry began by identifying him as the current Tsar of Russia.

dfan | a year ago

$1200 for the set, in case you were wondering like I was.


unsupp0rted | a year ago

If your goal is an offline wikipedia then try

https://dumps.wikimedia.org/other/kiwix/zim/ with the http server from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiwix

Other mirrors exist carring different sitesrips. https://mirror.accum.se/mirror/kiwix.org/zim/ https://ftp.fau.de/kiwix/zim/

Between http-serve, git clone, yt-dl and various emulators internet access is hardly a necessity unless you enjoy seeding or arguing, and the latter is currently being deprecated by local models.

casey2 | a year ago

> First, I'll be honest: The existence of an up-to-date print encyclopedia in 2023 took me by surprise.

In contrast, the fact that there is only one remaining (English-language) print encyclopedia is something that took me by surprise. I'm not sure how many is reasonable to expect, but I'd have thought it was >1.

cxr | a year ago

Growing up in the 80's we had a set of 1960's world book encyclopedias. I would read them for fun. Sort of the same sort of thing as hitting random on wikipedia today, but in alphabetical order. Admittedly I suspect my love of reading is largely due to not having a tv growing up.

Some people say they read the dictionary for fun, which I never understood, dictionaries are boring. encyclopedias are much more interesting. (probably why I am unable to spell worth a damn today)

And if you were wondering C was the best volume, although I cant remember why.

somat | a year ago

My parents bought a set of World Book when my sister and I were in elementary school. It might be the most important purchase they ever made for our education, as it not only helped with our information gathering for reports and whatnot, but was entertainment for us when bored. We loved just hopping into a random page and reading about whatever that thing was. It made me the info-junkie I am today, I think.

This has got me thinking about buying a set for my friends with kids (I'll check with them first and see if they have the shelf real estate).

mayormcmatt | a year ago

I used the world book (2021) to reduce the need for computer use in my kids. They have computers, but they are Alphamsmart Danas and they can use them to write, code in C, play chess, and read books I load on there.

The World Book has great articles and I learn plenty from it too. One unique thing is the authors of each article are listed. When I read an interesting article, I email the author and engage with them further, which often leads to more interesting insights.

westcort | a year ago

I credit my grandma's encyclopedia Britannica from the 70s with sparking my interest in engineering. In particular, there were these very detailed diagrams of every stage of the moon landing as well as diagrams of rockets from the Mercury to the Saturn V. It was fairly magical in a time before Wikipedia.

I think the fact that it was higher-level and structured benefited me. Nowadays it's much easier to dive deep into something which is kind of beautiful. If you want to see the detailed schematics for the Saturn V, it's a click away. If you want to sit down and program on a simulated guidance computer, you can (MoonJS).

I do wonder if my younger self would be able to "go broad" when presented with information this easy to attain. I notice my nephews have a tendency to "go deep" and at age 8 they're diving into every nuanced detail of something like the Titanic and then re-creating it in Minecraft. I envy that access to information at a young age but I wonder if it prevents them from going broad when they're fixated on a particular topic for a year.

Overall, I think I'd still prefer Wikipedia if I was born today.

dudeinhawaii | a year ago

I probably would have appreciated such an encyclopedia as a kid. I actually got a "computer encyclopedia" (a single heavy book with way over a thousand pages) as a birthday present once, and I simply read through it from start to finish, brute force style, skipping only the most boring articles. My attention span was almost unlimited back then.

cubefox | a year ago

We have the 1997 edition. It costed us 1,000₹/12$ for a single book( it has around 30 in a set) which was a lot of money for my dad in 1997. Surprisingly the color photos still pop, the page quality is brilliant and it's built like a freaking tank. It was like browsing the internet during the late 1990s.

shmde | a year ago

World Book was always the most terrible Encyclopedia when I was growing up 1968-1984. Overly short articles and tons of color pictures; only suitable for 10-yrs and younger. When sent to do a book report in my elementary School library I knew I would always come up short on information if I relied on "The World Book."

Encyclopedia Americana was the thing to own and was IMHO better than the Brittainica. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclopedia_Americana . We owned the Encyclopedia Americana, The Book of Science (a 10-volume science encyclopedia), and a family medical guide.

williamDafoe | a year ago

I remember using the Barsa[0] encyclopedia as a source for homework. We went to my grandfather's house where this imposing collection of red and gold hard cover books rested at the higher shelf. Even an adult had to get on a chair to reach there. I'm pretty sure is still there almost as a trophy or decoration piece. It's probably useless nowadays and I'm pretty sure it still lists the Soviet Union and Rhodesia as countries. Back when I've used those books they already had the smell of old books.

And yes I would love to have those books for myself.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barsa_(encyclopedia)

irusensei | a year ago

For me, the idea of having it on paper, is also that the definition of words can't be changed to please modern sensibilities.

I reckon I don't have an encyclopaedia – my parents didn't have that much money growing up, and now, I don't have that much space available (not sure if they are even printed in my language anymore). But I do have a very prized (personally) big dictionary from the 80s, that my father used with his studies.

It's scary, to see how certain words totally changed their meaning in a few decades, and it's great to be able to go and look them out to get some context on a few themes. Be certain, that the Overton window, did move radically in one direction.

wtcactus | a year ago

We had a printed encyclopedia growing up - I assume it was bought used, but don't know. My Dad was an academic which must be part of why he saw value in it. I forget which encyclopedia it was, but something pretty comprehensive occupying a couple of feet of shelf space.

As a kid I read the entire encyclopedia cover to cover from A-Z! Hard to say what I retained from that, but no doubt quite a bit, as well as the curiosities that were satisfied even if the content was later forgotten. I couldn't see doing the same with WikiPedia - there's something about the finite physicality of a set of encyclopedias that does seem to beckon for them to be read!

HarHarVeryFunny | a year ago

I had Encyclopedia Britannica in the house as a kid and it was great to just open up a random volume and pick something to read about.

A few times I made an attempt to read the whole thing from A to Z. Never got very far, but I know a lot about aardvarks.

rufus_foreman | a year ago

I would buy a historical edition of Brittanica, not a 2023 version of the World Book. It would be eye-opening to see how people thought of the world before the speed and hyper-connectivity of the internet.

igammarays | a year ago

I don't speak Danish but I remember how amazing is their encyclopedia "Lille Salmonsen", one I "read" every evening in my hotel room in Kopenhagen. It was 1940 edition. Somehow with my German and English, and a bit of common knowledge, I could "read" it and it's really interesting, illustrated encyclopedia, reflecting Danish history, language, character, and probably their "thinking". This is one of those physical books I would like to have at least in our local public library.

novaRom | a year ago
| a year ago

My favorite reference book is "Desk Ref", which is the larger fatter version of "Pocket Ref".

Obviously everything in it can be looked up online, but I just don't like being tied to having an internet connection. I don't have the greatest memory in the world, and am happy to outsource my knowledge to an outboard secondary brain, so actual physical reference books are quite reassuring to me.

LeoPanthera | a year ago

I still have great memories laying on the living room floor reading volume after volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica during family TV evenings. The set came with a language dictionary covering 5-10 languages; I spent endless hours "learning" Russian and Arabic from that book. I still have those books and the cabinet they were sold with.

alaxsxaq | a year ago

I have a picture of myself with about 22 encyclopedias in the back of a van. Memories I would pay millions to see in Video/VR.

devsegal | a year ago

I still have my 1966 Britannica. Learned a lot as a kid just picking a volume and reading random articles. I hate to give it up.

noefingway | a year ago

I grew up with the World Book set as well. Seemed like there were more books/pages (or maybe thicker pages/smaller print). We also had a set of Funk and Wagnalls as well as a Disney set of the future world. They were a constant passtime, but even as a child certain topics ended far too briefly. Today we have Wikipedia to follow up.

karmakaze | a year ago

I still have my 1979 set (with 1980 Year Book!) - I traded in a 1952 set I inherited from a (much older) cousin. Funnily enough, a lot of the articles were the same (quite a few of the experiments, in particular) and of course the articles about pre-Eisenhower presidents.

It's great for stabilizing my freestanding Ikea bookshelf, though.

UncleSlacky | a year ago
| a year ago

I would totally read this in the dentist waiting room, instead of looking at my phone or the TV.

Everyone thought vinyl records were dead, but here we are:


Still, I'm not buying a set. Takes up too much space.

AlbertCory | a year ago

> My family's reaction was disappointing, but I don't mind that the encyclopedia set is just for me.

That's just coping after burning a bit of money on an useless shelf decoration... I'm sure he will use it occasionally instead of wikipedia just to feel he didn't threw away that money.

ilyt | a year ago

I used to go to my school library's reference section because I loved to read the Brittanica

Does anyone know what kind of paper was used for its printing? It was good in quality to not have bleed through, but sheer enough to have several hundred pages per volume.

srvmshr | a year ago

I have local encylopedia from 1928... It is also interesting alternative. Just to get some different perspective on history.

Now I think I might need to look for something even older, if there is anything available for cheap.

Ekaros | a year ago

This is a massive exaggeration. My daughter reads encyclopedias I buy for her, just as I did.l back in the day. And it wasn't horribly popular to be the book reading kid 30 years ago as well.

vkazanov | a year ago

I've been seriously thinking about getting a complete set of good printed encyclopedias. I am inspired now. Perhaps I can find a secondhand set of Encyclopedia Britannica.

JohnFen | a year ago

I have tons of memories of reading my parents' World Book Encyclopedia growing up. Honestly, getting a print copy for my kids to browse through doesn't seem a bad idea.

mcphage | a year ago

I have Great Books of the Western World by Encyclopædia Britannica This is a great set to have in case of some sort of information apocalypse.

kvetching | a year ago

One thing that the internet is (mostly) missing here is discoverability, finding something entirely random and new as you flick through.

dizzydes | a year ago

Encyclopedia and World Atlas were my best friends since I learned how to read. Still have very warm feelings.

FpUser | a year ago

My parents had a set of encyclopedia Britannica from 1987. Problem is they got it for me in 1997.

equivocates | a year ago

Learned a lot from this as a kid.

milar | a year ago

Does anyone know of a good English translation of Naturalis Historia, by the way?

acadapter | a year ago

I have been meaning to get one myself. Problem is it is so darn expensive

danjoredd | a year ago

I inherited the set of WB Encyclopedias my parents bought for our family when I was a kid. We could not sell them in the yard sale and the library didn't want them as a donation.

I decided to keep them as a 'decoration' for my new office. There is some nostalgia for me and I will probably crack one open now and then.

I think it is naïve to believe that just because the Internet is full of disinformation that alters regularly at the speed of light; that a print version will protect you from that. While the older versions are less likely to be infiltrated; the biases have existed long enough that plenty of propaganda has made it into print.

didgetmaster | a year ago

Sounds like: We want to invest on AI and this is our exclusive training dataset.

gareve | a year ago


Lerinsmooris23 | a year ago


T3RMINATED | a year ago


Demmme | a year ago

Random Gen Z-er: "Oh look, there's a dead tree version of Wikipedia."

Gen X: Dead stare, mouth open, winces, grips Encarta CDs tightly

midnitewarrior | a year ago

So arstechnica now has native ads?

dna_polymerase | a year ago