Britannical thinking

The Britannica, in all of its glory.

I finished reading The Know-It-All – A.J. Jacobs’ book on reading and completing the Encyclopædia Britannica – and learned a lot about the revered collection. I know that it’s been the first name in knowledge for years, and that it’s not the easiest thing to read. There’s an unending supply of knowledge contained in each edition, and they do a pretty damn good job of keeping everything updated as each new set comes out.

Oh, there’s one more thing I learned. I kind of want my own set, now.

This isn’t new – I’ve always been drawn to sets like this. I thoughtfully argued that I needed the Pocket Penguins 70th Anniversary Box Set, and (eventually) secured a copy of the set for myself. I also considered, for a few minutes only, how nice it would have been to own The Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection – all 1,082 books currently published by the company — though I always knew that a set of books that large would go unread. Also, a the set looks pretty tacky when completely displayed, regardless of it’s completeness.

Still, I figured I’d check out the options I had in bringing the Britannica into my home. I searched around for a little bit to see how much it would set me back if I picked up a copy of the set. It turns out that the Britannica isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s quite expensive: $1,653.85. Really, I shouldn’t have expected it to be affordable. According to the Britannica website, the set consists of “32 volumes with over 44 million words, bound handsomely in black heirloom binding.” If my experience serves me correctly, no book “bound handsomely in black heirloom binding” has ever been cheap, so you can forget about 32 of them being affordable.

Actually, to be fair, the set is on sale right now, affordably priced at $1,395.00. That’s over $250.00 off! Considering it comes with everything — even the CD-ROM and supplimental books — that’s nearly $350.00 in savings. And with their payment plan, I can simply plunk down $150 and pay just $83 per month for the next 15 months.

Really, I can’t justify purchasing a new set. The cheapest I’ve found any Britannica set is for $300.00, and that was a library worn set from the 1930’s. With a set that old, I can’t really rely on the information: consider this — World War I was still being called The Great War at that time.

Unfortunately, Britannica’s website continues to entice me with the description:

There’s nothing else like it. 32 volumes offering a boundless range of information written by Nobel Prize winners, authors, curators, and other experts, updated and revised to cover today’s world events. In fact, you can’t find a more organized, helpful way to learn about anything that intrigues you — Britannica‘s 237 years of experience guarantees it. In an age when anyone can post their version of the facts on the Internet, Encyclopaedia Britannica maintains its reputation as the most authoritative source of the information and ideas people need for work, school, and the sheer joy of discovery.

This set is unattainable for me, unless I win the lottery or suddenly start making $100,000 a year. I’m not broken up about it — I could purchase the CD-ROM version for $40, or if I don’t mind being out of sync by a year, the 2005 version for $20 — but I think it would be so cool to have the entire Encyclopædia Britannica sitting on the shelf, ready to be opened and used.

Oh well. I guess one monstrous, overpriced set in my collection will have to do.

This was lovingly handwritten on February 6th, 2006