I had a strange impulse to browse the Hamlyn Illustrated Encyclopedia tonight. A one volume three column encyclopedia with black and white pictures at the top of the page. This edition was published in 1986, with the previous title being the Joy of Knowledge Encyclopedia (what a wonderful and comforting title). It’s my wife’s, not mine, but I know if I’d grown up with it I would have a strong attachment to it, offering as it does the whole world in one book.
I love Wikipedia, because it has lengthy articles on Spiderman 2099 and daily updates on recent deaths. But I remembered one thing it doesn’t have – the pleasure of browsing. On the way to check the entry on ‘Anabaptists’, my eye was caught by a photo of ‘Agnew, Spiro’ and I learnt some brief facts about this man I only really knew about from Mad Magazine. (So much of what I know about American politics and popular culture has come from Mad Magazine!). The ‘Anabaptists’ article was laughable – according to this, they were a Middle Age movement (about two hundred years out!) preoccupied only with believers’ baptism by immersion, and contributing nothing beyond being the ancestors of modern day Baptists, a very contestable suggestion indeed.
Then on the way to ‘Wycliffe, John’ I saw, for the first time in living memory, a picture of a ‘Wolverine’ and I was dragged pleasurably into a field outside theology / literature / history.
Long live the browsable encyclopedia!