Let Me Look that Up

Today marks the anniversary of the first publication of the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1768 in Scotland.  I love encyclopedias. I loved the World Book set my parents got me and I read it all the time. Wikipedia pales in comparison, I think, to holding a real encyclopedia in your hand.

What are your favorite reference books?



32 thoughts on “Let Me Look that Up”

  1. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I also loved encyclopedias. As a kid my parents bought a set of World Books which I spent many happy hours with. I also have an old set of story books and myths, the name of which escapes me at this hour. I loved reading those. I still love a book of maps (atlas) and now I spend a lot of time looking at the map on my iPad.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. when we moved to Minneapolis my dad was working for my mom’s dad who was a bridge and road construction company owner . he was kind of a fancy guy that drove Thunderbirds and Cadillacs lived in a big house in Edina and had the 16 foot tall white flocked tree delivered by Bachmans every year .
    he made a big grandstand show of coming by on Christmas Yves after he had dropped off gifts at the other cousins house and his gifts were always the big deal gifts versus what my parents were able to afford for us.
    my dad didn’t enjoy Christmas because he saw the greedy part of his kids come out and no matter what they were given they always wanted more .
    One year my grandfather brought over one big box and that was all for the whole family and it turned out to be the book of knowledge .
    we were so pissed that we got Easter Christmas and got a set of encyclopedias that the gnashing and wailing was an extended event
    I would guess I was in about fourth grade at the time so I had a brother in second sister in first and another sister in preschool.
    Good time to get a set of encyclopedias I guess but I looked at them resentfully and probably only use them 10 times in my life when my mom reminded me that I could look up President Andrew Jackson for my book report in the book of knowledge .
    Today Google and Siri have got it covered
    I’m guilty of asking google who was the costar in that movie with merle Oberon and Lawrence Olivier in Wuthering Heights and Siri can tell me pretty quickly who I was thinking of and she’s always right almost
    I never learned to do reports with reference material from encyclopedias .
    Didn’t really use a dictionary.
    I did love planning trips on the Rand McNally road atlas and did that quite a bit in the old hippie van
    still do
    I love that old movie where the gangsters mall hangs out with the house full of professors who are assembling the latest encyclopedia
    There are two of them in one of them the main meal professor is Danny Kaye and that’s my favorite but the other one is very good also I can’t think of the name of it.
    i’m getting in the car to drive to Chicago in a couple hours and tomorrow morning we jump on the plane to London to go hang out with my daughter in London for two days then off to Paris for three days then back to London for three more days before we return
    I don’t know what our connectivity will be with phones and or laptops so this may be it for a while love you guys miss you sorry to miss bookclub and Chris’s box discussion and the shindig at VS his house for the gift exchange and the fun Christmas party but you got to do what you Gotta do
    Starting today it feels like the holidays for me see y’all soon

    Liked by 5 people

    1. “Didn’t really use a dictionary.” Now there’s the surprise of the year! 🙂
      Have a great trip, tim, but how could you not? Is daughter going along to Paris?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Acdtually, tim, now that I think about it, I’m not so sure that now is a good time to go to Paris, what with the general strike and all. Have you considered that?


      2. she and her boyfriend who studied in edinboutough and maybe one of her really good friends who coincidently was in london with her studying neuro surgery stuff
        should be great

        Liked by 2 people

      1. that’s a favorite but i’m thinking the 2 versions had barbara stanwick in one and veronica lake in the other

        danny kaye was my favorite professor
        can’t remember the other professor


  3. We had the Grolliers encyclopedia. And the blue science books in that series took up a lot of my younger years! Loved those books and they were a huge influence on my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just remembered we had a Funk and Wagnals too. But they were downstairs so I didn’t use them as often. And they didn’t have nearly the pictures that the Blue Science ones had. I still miss those books. If they had kept them updated. Ours were 1969. So many science images in them that I still see around today.
      Couple years ago and seeing VonBauns first liquid rocket at the Smithsonian and I knew it from those science encyclopedia.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I always loved browsing the many sets of encyclopedias the school and public libraries kept on hand. And I wondered if the information in each set was much different than info in the other sets. They also had a certain smell–the smell of knowledge?

    Chris in O-town

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Many of the books I keep are for reference—biographies, histories and academic studies. The best part about online resources for reference is that they are much broader than any set of encyclopedias could have been—I can usually find information no matter how obscure my query— and they are capable of changing with new information. If a subject is controversial (and what subject isn’t?), you can get multiple perspectives and decide for yourself.

    Growing up, I had a set of Compton’s encyclopedias and I read them and used them from time to time as reference for papers. In my opinion, that’s about the limit of utility for a set of encyclopedias- the time it takes for a child to get through elementary school.

    As substantial as a set of encyclopedias seems, compared to the amount of subject matter available, encyclopedias represent the lowest common denominator of knowledge. Editorial decisions will necessarily have been made as to what constitutes essential knowledge. And that doesn’t address the “knowledge” where opinions differ. Either the editors of the encyclopedia choose a stance or they avoid the subject. Ultimately, the sum of knowledge is tainted. Since these books are a product that the companies are trying to sell, surely there is a motivation to stay away from anything likely to offend certain groups. Encyclopedias can’t afford to be objective.

    And things change. That is especially true in the realm of science where a new discovery can completely overturn previous theories, but also in social sciences, where commonly accepted beliefs were really baseless. For example, this is “knowledge” from a turn of the twentieth century reference book:

    When you have printed reference books trying to freeze the state of knowledge, their lifespan is short and the “knowledge” therein soon outdated or offensive or laughable. Some encyclopedia companies offered annual supplements, which I think one had to buy. I hardly think, though, that the companies used their supplements to correct the information they had published which had proved wrong and anyway I suspect that the buying of supplements trailed off after a couple of years.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. My answer is probably not what you wanted. We had an encyclopedia set that we never used. I was always afraid the information was outdated. When the internet became available, I used it to the exclusion of reference books. I look things up several times a day, although I don’t use books to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now you have me concerned. Somehow I get the idea from your response, Steve, that you think certain answers to the daily questions are wanted. Ergo, there are other answers that are not. I sure hope you’re wrong about that. I have enough to worry about.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. My family bought the World Book encyclopedia in the early 60s. I read every one of them cover to cover. I especially liked the “H” volume because it had transparencies of the human body (bones, muscles, blood vessels, organs, etc). We also got the World Book yearly supplements until the late 60s. Loved them all. I have both a dictionary and a thesaurus in book form but usually look up spellings and words on my computer now. I also have my 6th edition of the Harbrace College Handbook – even though it is a treasure trove of useful information, I keep mine mostly for nostalgia.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. We relied heavily on the Mental Measurement Yearbook to evaluate psychological tests. I don’t think we have used it in years as that information is on-line. The DSM’s get used slot, as are the Rorschach scoring manuals.


  8. We did have a Collier’s Encyclopedia in the 60s which I used only for reports (yes, with the additional Yearbooks). We had a big black dictionary (probably left from my folks’ college days) that had several color plates of illustrations – gemstones, work animals, flowers… I ran into a copy at a friend’s house as an adult and was surprised how glad I was to see these pages again.

    We also had a beautifully illustrated book of birds, and I keep searching for it at antique shops.

    Now I’m happy to find most things I need to know right away on the internet, and I find Wikipedia fascinating – can bounce around there for a long while. I realize it is not always factually accurate – if I need that I’ll check a few places.

    Husband and I keep a bevy of paperback reference materials for crossword puzzles, when we don’t want to have to get up and go to the computer: a 2011 Movie Guide, a thesaurus, mythology book, and French German and Latin dictionaries. My favorite, though, is a garage sale find: The Concise Dictionary of 26 Languages.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is that last book a book of much needed phrases such as “Where is the bathroom”? Or, “My husband is sick, where is the hospital?”


        1. Snort!

          I just looked closely, and it includes most European languages, Turkish, Indonesian, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Yiddish, Japanese, the aforementioned Swahili, and Esperanto. No Chinese or Korean, no Indian or Pakistani. Published in 1968…


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