Monday, December 14, 2015

Man, do I miss my World Book Encyclopedias

When I was growing up, we had a full set of World Book Encyclopedias on our living room bookshelf, and I devoured them.

I don't mean I ate them, I mean I read them. Just to clarify.

Here's exactly what they looked like:

And I'm not kidding when I say I read them. I would literally open up a volume and just read whatever article I found. This is a main reason why I'm so good at general-knowledge trivia. Seriously, a lot of the weird stuff I know came from reading the 1964 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia.

There were, though, certain articles that I came back to time and again. "Snakes" was one. "Space Travel" was another. I also remember them having cool plastic overlays illustrating the different organ systems of the human body. Not sure if that was part of the "Anatomy" entry or what.

Still, there was no article I turned up more often than the one on "U.S. Presidents." The pages for that entry were torn and dog-eared from use. I can still picture the two-page spread in which the World Book editors very helpfully laid out head shots of all the presidents from beginning to end, from Washington to Lyndon Johnson (this was, remember, the 1964 edition).

I memorized those photos to the point that I could recite the presidents in order by the age of 6. My dad took me to the Hob Nob, the neighborhood bar down the street, a couple of times and had me show off my little presidents trick. The friendly drunks there were very appreciative of my skills, and both times I did it, Doris the barmaid gave me a free Coke. Not a bad deal.

Anyway, I used those World Book Encyclopedias a lot throughout my school career, usually as the basis for some written assignment or other. Like, for example, I remember having the "V" volume open at the kitchen table while I wrote out a report on the state of Vermont. Later reports depended heavily on Volume "I" for Iceland, "D" for diphtheria, and "R" for my favorite president of all, Teddy Roosevelt.

I later went to college in the late 80s and early 90s, which you geezers will remember was still essentially the pre-Internet age, so the World Books even helped me out as an undergraduate.

Then, in the mid-90s when personal computers came out with CD-ROM drives, the encyclopedia people started putting their stuff onto CDs. Which at the time was pretty cool. "All of those encyclopedias on this ONE tiny disc?" As you might imagine, it was a lot cheaper  both for the manufacturer and for the consumer  to produce encyclopedias on CD rather than heavy-bound books.

And so printed encyclopedias started to go away. Do any of them even exist anymore? I know the Encyclopedia Brittanica stopped putting out a print version a few years ago. Hold on, let me go and check if World Book is still killing trees...

You guys, they are! I just went to and was so pleased to see that you can STILL get a complete printed version of the 2016 World Book Encyclopedia for the low, low price of...$1,099.

Yeah, that's a little steep.

God bless the Internet.


  1. I can sell you the 2016 set at a discounted price. Let me know if your schedule will permit an appointment some evening this week. The presentation only takes a few hours and you will receive a limited edition "NERD ALERT" bumper sticker for your vehicle. Sale ends Saturday!

  2. Let's just say, hypothetically, that I already HAVE a "Nerd Alert" bumper sticker. Then what?

  3. What size head band do you wear?

  4. Size the large cranium gene from my dad.