My thoughts on a lost era: Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books

Wow. I read this headline yesterday while taking my daily cruise (I do have to see just how the silly GOP primary season is going, after all – it’s like a slow-moving train wreck, and I just can’t look away…) and stopped short. As crazy as it sounds, I had this massive flashback. Me, sitting in the closet of my mother’s dressing room, around the age of six or seven, reading our set of Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover for weeks on end.

My parents were one of those hundreds of thousands who purchased the full set – the type of set many of you may remember, where a volume arrived very few weeks or so until the A to Z collection was complete. I read them like a fat kid ate cake. Couldn’t get enough of them. When I got to the end of the Z volume, I went back to A. Still to this day, I attribute a lot of where I am today to reading those voraciously as a young child. As a parent myself, I knew that THE most important thing I could teach my children was to read, and to constantly encourage them to read.

It’s a different world now, obviously. I’m totally on board with digital editions of books – have been for quite some time. I’m not one of those married to the “feel” or “smell” of books, and I would definitely rather read ebook than paper, but…man, this hit me. The knowledge of the world is available in seconds online, yet there’s just something about that memory, me holding a flashlight a cracking open the next exciting letter volume, that made me stop and think.

In all likelihood, that’s an era that will never be experienced again – a 244 year history of printed encyclopedias has come to an end. Kids won’t wait anxiously for the encyclopedia salesman to drop off the next five pound book that they will crack (literally, as that crisp new spine cracks for the first time) and hide in the closet to read.

Kids today have access to infinitely more knowledge than at any time in human history, and even though I don’t pine for the days of horse & buggy, or telegraphs, or oil lamps, I have to look upon this news with just a touch of sadness.

Last night I ordered the hardcover versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy for my 11 year old son. I have the electronic versions for his Kobo, but something just made me want to give him that crack of the spine.

Love to hear your thoughts or memories…



  1. RobinEThornton - March 14, 2012 10:13 am

    Great post. I think we need to do something to mark this bittersweet historic occasion, progress is progress.

    My parents brought my brother and I a set of Encyclopedia Britannica when I was 11 or 12. What a difference it made in our lives: school projects; questions my parents couldn’t answer; and especially, as an antidote to boredom. I didn’t read them from cover to cover, but would pick a volume up, open it at a page, start reading and be absorbed for hours.

    I love my e-reader, but I also love opening up a book. New or old, it’s like opening a door to another place/life/universe!

    • Steve - March 14, 2012 3:39 pm

      Thanks Robin, appreciate the comment!

  2. Mike (@Comkey) - March 14, 2012 10:30 am

    I will miss print encyclopedias and dictionaries. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Websters Dictionary (the HUGE leather-bound version) and World Book.

    Truly would be cool if they offered EB in eBook format. It would be spendy compared to most eBooks at this point, but totally worth it to me.

    My father would aggravatingly tell me every time I asked him a question, “Go look it up!” I don’t think he ever answered a question I asked him. I just tossed that back at him this year – he’s now 78.

    Wait long enough and you’ll get your revenge.

  3. Steve - March 14, 2012 3:48 pm

    Wait long enough and you’ll get your revenge.


  4. Woelf - March 14, 2012 4:10 pm

    Before the Internet, before Wikipedia, there was Encyclopedia Britannica. Much slower, but it had pretty pictures, lol. Growing up we had a bunch of encyclopedia collections, including Britannica and I am with you on that one Steve; I loved reading them, especially on rainy days. My dad believed knowledge is power, so he made sure I had no excuses. When I look back at my youth there are a few things I get sentimental about: 80s music, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, break-dance pants (Don’t tell my wife) and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    I love reading ebooks (Ive purchased more ebooks this year than paper books), but I will always love paper books more. It’s not something that will disappear overnight. I am not against the digital revolution. I am all for it, but the feel, smell and look of a paper book resonates with me emotionally. That said, It will truly be the end of an era when they stop printing Britannica and it seems that in the digital age, there is no place for sentiment.

  5. Bill Chance - March 18, 2012 12:32 am

    I used to read the encyclopedias cover to cover too. We didn’t have Britannica at home – but I’d stay late at the library and read through them (though World Book was my favorite – a bit less stuffy).


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