The 2010-2011 edition of Pears Cyclopedia offers no new topics, but adds considerable heft to the “Britain Today”, “Literary Companion”, and “Medical Matters” sections. The “Life and Leisure” chapter was pared down and only the delectable “World of Wine” survived the editorial axe.
The Cyclopedia is kept astoundingly up to date by a dedicated team of 30 or so scholar-contributors. The entry for “Planets” incorporates the latest space missions and the most recent knowledge gleaned from them. It also makes detailed reference to the new classification of dwarf planets and plutoids. The biography of Tony Blair mentions his Middle-East role and his conversion to Catholicism (2007). The entry about euthanasia mentions the celebrated Debbie Purdy case (2009). Sports records include all 2008 results and world events (arranged by chronology and by country) comprise all of human history through the end of 2009.
"Affection" and "attachment" are terms rarely used in a review of a reference title - but, they are the ones that come to my mind as I contemplate the new (2010-2011) edition of Pears Cyclopedia, one of many editions I possess. I confess to my addiction proudly: control freak that I am, I like holding the Universe of Knowledge in the palm of my hand, in manageable, pocket-sized form.
What renders this single volume unique is not that it is a cornucopia of facts (which it is, abundantly and lavishly so), but that it arranges them lovingly in patterns and narratives and, thus, endows them with sense and sensibility. It is at once an erudite friend, a mischievous iconoclast, a legend to our times, the sum total of human knowledge in a rich variety of fields, and a treasure-trove of trivia and miscellany. It is as compellingly readable as the best non-fiction, as comprehensive as you need it to be, and as diverting as a parlor game. It is both quaint and modern in the best senses of these loaded words.
Pears Cyclopedia is a labor of love and it shows. Its current editor (formerly, its Assistant Editor), Christopher Cook, has been at it for decades now. Annually, he springs a delicious surprise on the avid cult that is the readership of Pears Cyclopedia: new topics that range from wine connoisseurship to gardening. This edition is not an exception, though the surprises are within the chapters.
The evergreens - meticulously updated every year to reflect the very last and best - include: a Chronicle of Events; Prominent People; Background to World Affairs; Britain Today (the Cyclopedia being a British institution); The Historical World; Background to Economic Events; a General Compendium; a Biblical Glossary; Myths and Legends; Ideas and Beliefs (my favorite); a superb Gazetteer of the World (alas, this year, for the second time running, without its attendant atlas); close to 2600 entries of General Information; a Literary Companion; an Introduction to Art and Architecture; The Worlds of Music, Cinema, Science, and Wine (in separate chapters, of course); a Sporting Almanac; Computing and the internet; The Environment; and Medical Matters.
At more than 1000 pages, Pears Cyclopedia is a bargain. Alas, its distribution leaves something to be desired. I have spent the better part of a long afternoon searching for it in vain in London's bookshops. Last time I had it ordered in Europe, I have waited for months on end for its arrival. It is also not exactly au courant on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It should be. Pears Cyclopedia is wonderful, in the true meaning of this word: it is full of wonders and, therefore, is itself a wonder.
DISCLAIMER: I have bought every single edition of Pears Cyclopedia that I possess, except the last two, which were provided to me, as review copies, courtesy Penguin/Alan Lane.
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The Future of the Book
The Kidnapping of Content
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The Disintermediation of Content
The Future of Electronic Publishing
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