All the Knowledge in the World: The Extraordinary History of the Encyclopedia
From the “deliriously clever” (Boston Globe) Simon Garfield, New York Times bestselling author of Just My Type, comes the wild and fascinating story of the encyclopedia, from Ancient Greece to the present day.
New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"A brilliant book about knowledge itself.” —Deirdre Mask, author of The Address Book
“Garfield’s witty history captures the obsessive, quixotic and sometimes error-filled quests of those—from Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D. to Wikipedians in this one—who have attempted to corral all the world’s information into a single source.”—New York Times
The encyclopedia once shaped our understanding of the world. Created by thousands of scholars and the most obsessive of editors, a good set conveyed a sense of absolute wisdom on its reader. Contributions from Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Orville Wright, Alfred Hitchcock, Marie Curie and Indira Gandhi helped millions of children with their homework. Adults cleared their shelves in the belief that everything that was explainable was now effortlessly accessible in their living rooms.
Now these huge books gather dust and sell for almost nothing on eBay. Instead, we get our information from our phones and computers, apparently for free. What have we lost in this transition? And how did we tell the progress of our lives in the past?
All the Knowledge in the World is a history and celebration of those who created the most ground-breaking and remarkable publishing phenomenon of any age. Simon Garfield, who “has a genius for being sparked to life by esoteric enthusiasm and charming readers with his delight” (The Times), guides us on an utterly delightful journey, from Ancient Greece to Wikipedia, from modest single-volumes to the 11,000-volume Chinese manuscript that was too big to print. He looks at how Encyclopedia Britannica came to dominate the industry, how it spawned hundreds of competitors, and how an army of ingenious door-to-door salesmen sold their wares to guilt-ridden parents. He reveals how encyclopedias have reflected our changing attitudes towards sexuality, race, and technology, and exposes how these ultimate bastions of trust were often riddled with errors and prejudice.
With his characteristic ability to tackle the broadest of subjects in an illuminating and highly entertaining way, Simon Garfield uncovers a fascinating and important part of our shared past and wonders whether the promise of complete knowledge—that most human of ambitions—will forever be beyond our grasp.
Praise for All the Knowledge in the World: The Extraordinary History of the Encyclopedia
“Garfield’s witty history captures the obsessive, quixotic and sometimes error-filled quests of those—from Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D. to Wikipedians in this one—who have attempted to corral all the world’s information into a single source.” — New York Times
“The life and death of the encyclopedia is recounted in Simon Garfield’s excellent new book....Garfield is lucid, witty, learned and clearly a bibliomaniac.... In All the Knowledge in the World, he has produced a lively threnody to the encyclopedic impulse....Impressively comprehensive.” — Wall Street Journal
“Witty and geekily eclectic....Celebrates encyclopedias in all their quirky, leatherbound glory.” — The Times (London)
"A wealth of research wrapped into an eccentric, charming package. ... Fits easily into [Garfield's] unpredictable canon, combining information, entertainment, and insight. ... Garfield's great affection for his subject shines through, making this book a pleasing, intriguing read." — Kirkus Reviews
"A playful history. ... Having grown up with a hunter-green leather-bound set of Britannicas in the house, I relate to Garfield’s nostalgia and delight. ... However bookish knowledge can be, Garfield counters this tendency with a light and personable touch." — New York Times Book Review
"A fascinating history. ... Lively and informative." — Washington Post
“Simon Garfield is the only author who could ever keep me up at night reading about encyclopedias. A brilliant book about knowledge itself.” — DEIRDRE MASK, author of The Address Book
“Magnificent. ... A perfectly styled work of literature—at times sad, at times funny, but always full of life.” — Engineering & Technology Magazine
"Anyone fascinated by the origins, evolution and the ultimate mortality of print encyclopedias will love this book. Wikipedia enthusiasts, from casual consumers to dedicated contributors, will also gain much from reading the book. ... All the Knowledge in the World is excellent at telling the long historical story of all encyclopedias, including those that predated Britannica. The book does a great job of detailing the 20th-century history of Britannica and the full story of Wikipedia’s creation, challenges and impact." — Inside Higher Ed
"An erudite and amusing exploration of the human quest for knowledge." — Financial Times
"An enjoyable tour." — Science
"A pleasure. Garfield writes fluidly, cheerily and charmingly, even while the breeziness does not detract from the scale of his ambition: to understand nothing less than humans’ need for knowledge and how to convey and preserve it." — The Spectator (Australia)
"Quirky and entertaining. ... Fast-paced and fact-filled, this entertaining compendium is a worthy tribute to the pursuit of knowledge." — Publishers Weekly
"Illuminating. ... An infectiously enthusiastic history, inspired by genuine affection." — Times Literary Supplement (London)
"Entertaining. ... Garfield’s genial solution is to organize his book alphabetically, which allows him to dive after whatever morsel of knowledge attracts his eye: for readers it means feeling much as if we were browsing an actual encyclopedia written by a companionable soul." — The Spectator
"Illustrates Garfield’s capacity to synthesise wide-ranging research and present it in a lucid, vibrant style. ... A valentine to the monumental significance of encyclopaedias." — Irish Examiner
"[A] suitably encyclopaedic book—written with all [Garfield's] usual wit and sharp eye for memorable facts." — Reader's Digest
"Entertaining and informative." — The Canberra Times (Australia)
"Fans of Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman and readers who don’t mind plenty of intriguing digression will devour." — Booklist