Burning the Britannica
Print encyclopedias once occupied a privileged cultural position—even if owners seldom consulted them.
What is an encyclopedia worth? In its heyday, advertisers insisted that the Encyclopedia Britannica was invaluable, especially for young minds. “You should give your child as many tools for success as possible,” a Britannica advertisement in a British newspaper advised in 1983. “Especially a fine encyclopedia.”
And what a fine one it is: 44 million words, 30,000 pages, all the world’s knowledge on topics from the aardvark to Zoroastrianism. Julian Baggini, founding editor of The Philosopher’s Magazine, was lucky enough to own all 32 volumes. Then...