Encyclopaedia Britannica announced that it is going out of print, ending a 244-year run. Once the world's preeminent font of facts, its gilded volumes attesting to its supremacy, the encyclopedia fell on hard times with the rise of the Internet. Unwieldy and often outdated — the last print edition chronicles 2010 and weighs 129 pounds — Encyclopaedia Britannica could hardly compete with the living, breathing animal that is Wikipedia. But as the print edition goes gently into that good night (it will continue as a digital entity), the nostalgia-prone are treating its passing as particularly tragic. Is it really that sad?
Yes! Those books were special: Sure, Encyclopaedia Britannica died "under its own massive, printed weight," says Cassie Murdoch at Jezebel. In this age of "Wiki everything," we'll "survive just fine without it." But "until they find a way to recreate the experience of holding the weighty tome in one's hand and inhaling the almost ancient smell of Encyclopaedia Britannica through your electronic device, we can still rightly sulk about the death of these classic books."
"Encyclopaedia Britannica dies under its own massive, printed weight"
Nah. No one was using it anyway: So, Wikipedia wins. Some will "bemoan this development as the triumph of an often amateurish, sometimes inaccurate, occasionally incomprehensible home-made encyclopedia over a reliable research work crafted by experts," says Harry McCracken at Time. But Encyclopaedia Britannica was "far from perfect." If I had to choose between them, "I'd opt for the more exhaustive, ambitious, accessible, continuously-updated, no-cost Wikipedia in a heartbeat. In fact, I already have." When was the last time anyone used Britannica "in its classic form"?
"No more dead-tree Encyclopaedia Britannica: Sad, but not that sad"
Not to worry. Encyclopaedia Britannica will live on: The end of the print edition is a "momentous event," say the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, but in a "larger sense this is just another historical data point in the evolution of human knowledge." The encyclopedia will continue on the Internet, "in bigger, more numerous, and more vibrant digital forms." Encyclopedia Britannica is poised "to serve knowledge and learning in new ways that go way beyond reference works." So check out Britannica Online, "which is entirely free" until March 19.
"Change: It's okay. Really."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- The big, gaping hole in the liberal policy arsenal
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- The forgotten victims of the war in Ukraine
- 10 things you need to know today: July 28, 2014
- Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science
- Blame Obama and U.S. evangelicals for the persecution of Iraqi Christians
- A gay Mormon's complicated journey
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
Subscribe to the Week