Sunday, May 24, 2015

48 inches of concise knowledge

Last week I made a ridiculous purchase. I paid $700 for a full 2007 set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. That's $700 for a 5 year old paper encyclopedia (encyclopaedia?).

Why? Am I a cranky old guy who doesn't get this new web thing? (Get off my lawn!) No, not really. At least, I'm not quite that old.

Am I a bookophile who just loves paper books (wik-whatia?) and refuses to get with the modern world? Well, no. I love my kindle apps and use google whenever I need to find out important things like how they did the driverless scenes in Knight Rider (a guy dressed up as a seat).

So what's the deal? The deal is that the great editors over at Britannica have spent about 250 years making articles that are as concise as possible. The paper form motivated them to fit as much information in as little space as possible. Wikipedia is great, but good gravy, concise it is not.

After years of reading news sites every day, I feel like things are just too repetitive. The pool of knowledge that they explore is just too limited. This is time I now plan on spending reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

When people celebrate holidays or make movies about wars, they almost always choose from a fairly limited set of wars. Everyone loves the Hitler, Washington, Lincoln, and Rambo wars. The countless other wars throughout history are barely mentioned. Those wars were great, but after years of hearing about them, I find them dull. I want to know about all the others. I hope Britannica can help me out.

I want to read the Micropaedia. Britannica actually has 32 volumes, but only the first 12 make up the Micropaedia. Most of the rest is the Macropaedia which has a lot more depth. I'll certainly spend time learning more about things that I find in the Micropaedia, but I'll probably just look them up online for depth. I bought these books so I could get access to the years of editorial writing and rewriting that distilled all the world's knowledge down into about 12000 pages (about 1000 pages per book) of 9 point type.

I've been asked why I didn't just go to the library. I could have read them there for free! Well, perhaps. Except for one problem. Libraries don't care about encyclopedias anymore! I went to 4 libraries. The first had a 2013 World Book (a children's encyclopedia). The second had a 2003 Britannica set. The third had a 2005 Britannica set with volume 1 missing. The fourth had the 2010 set! (the last one ever printed) But, they had it in storage. It wasn't even out on the shelves despite the tremendous amount of space in that library. (They were probably keeping it as a collector's item.)

Furthermore, despite not bothering to keep up to date, they also won't allow me to check out any of the volumes. Seems contradictory that they find them unnecessary, but they also won't let you check them out.

That's ok. Owning a set just feels right anyway. If I want to write notes in the margins or highlight things then I'll be able to do that in my own copy.

Will I actually make it through all 12000 pages? Maybe.  Maybe not. My interests in woodworking, metalworking, cement casting, origami, balloon twisting, diorama building, gardening, kayaking, snorkeling, sewing (mostly Halloween costumes), Pac-Man collecting, piano playing, and making android games have all had various durations. Some are ongoing. Others have fallen by the wayside. But, keeping a blog about this will help me retain more of what I read, so that's the plan. I'll write about whatever I find interesting enough to be worth remembering.

I'll have to be careful about leaving too much metadata lying around though. If I let slip which volumes are where, you'll be able to follow my locations by watching which words I've been reading about. If I start writing about Ceausescu, Nicolae (he was such a reckless bastard!), you'll know that I'm in the room containing volume 3 (Ceara-Deluc).

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