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All the Knowledge in the World: The Extraordinary History of the Encyclopedia (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Can you believe that Marie Curie was only mentioned in an encyclopedia under her husband's entry? Did you know an entire encyclopedia collection was commissioned by a ruler during the Ming dynasty to hoard information just for himself? Could you imagine a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman? Once the leading source of knowledge for scholars and the elite, now largely replaced by readily available resources on the internet & Wikipedia, this is an interesting micro-history of the trials and tribulations our collection of knowledge has gone through.

— Rhi


From the “deliriously clever” (Boston Globe) Simon Garfield, New York Times bestselling author of Just My Type, comes the wild and fascinating story of the encyclopedia, from Ancient Greece to the present day.

"A brilliant book about knowledge itself.” —Deirdre Mask, author of The Address Book

"Magnificent. ... A perfectly styled work of literature – at times sad, at times funny, but always full of life." —Engineering & Technology Magazine

The encyclopedia once shaped our understanding of the world. Created by thousands of scholars and the most obsessive of editors, a good set conveyed a sense of absolute wisdom on its reader. Contributions from Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Orville Wright, Alfred Hitchcock, Marie Curie and Indira Gandhi helped millions of children with their homework. Adults cleared their shelves in the belief that everything that was explainable was now effortlessly accessible in their living rooms.

Now these huge books gather dust and sell for almost nothing on eBay. Instead, we get our information from our phones and computers, apparently for free. What have we lost in this transition? And how did we tell the progress of our lives in the past?

All the Knowledge in the World is a history and celebration of those who created the most ground-breaking and remarkable publishing phenomenon of any age. Simon Garfield, who “has a genius for being sparked to life by esoteric enthusiasm and charming readers with his delight” (The Times), guides us on an utterly delightful journey, from Ancient Greece to Wikipedia, from modest single-volumes to the 11,000-volume Chinese manuscript that was too big to print. He looks at how Encyclopedia Britannica came to dominate the industry, how it spawned hundreds of competitors, and how an army of ingenious door-to-door salesmen sold their wares to guilt-ridden parents. He reveals how encyclopedias have reflected our changing attitudes towards sexuality, race, and technology, and exposes how these ultimate bastions of trust were often riddled with errors and prejudice.

With his characteristic ability to tackle the broadest of subjects in an illuminating and highly entertaining way, Simon Garfield uncovers a fascinating and important part of our shared past and wonders whether the promise of complete knowledge—that most human of ambitions—will forever be beyond our grasp.

About the Author

SIMON GARFIELD is a feature writer at the Observer (London) and the author of nine works of nonfiction, including Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World, which was a New York Times Notable Book, and The End of Innocence, which won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1995.

Praise For…

"A fascinating history. ... Lively and informative." — Washington Post

"Witty and geekily eclectic. ... Celebrates encyclopaedias in all their quirky, leatherbound glory." — The Times (London)

“Simon Garfield is the only author who could ever keep me up at night reading about encyclopedias. A brilliant book about knowledge itself.” — DEIRDRE MASK, author of The Address Book

"Magnificent. ... The story [Garfield] tells is truly extraordinary. ... A perfectly styled work of literature – at times sad, at times funny, but always full of life. ... One of those few books that I've found impossible to put down." — Vitali Vitaliev, Engineering & Technology

"The life and death of the encyclopedia is recounted in Simon Garfield's excellent new book. ... Garfield is lucid, witty, learned and clearly a bibliomaniac. ... In All the Knowledge in the World, he has produced a lively threnody to the encyclopedic impulse. ... Impressively comprehensive." — Wall Street Journal

"An erudite and amusing exploration of the human quest for knowledge." — Financial Times

"A wealth of research wrapped into an eccentric, charming package. ... Fits easily into [Garfield's] unpredictable canon, combining information, entertainment, and insight. ... Garfield's great affection for his subject shines through, making this book a pleasing, intriguing read." — Kirkus Reviews

"A pleasure. Garfield writes fluidly, cheerily and charmingly, even while the breeziness does not detract from the scale of his ambition: to understand nothing less than humans’ need for knowledge and how to convey and preserve it." — The Spectator (Australia)

"Quirky and entertaining. ... Fast-paced and fact-filled, this entertaining compendium is a worthy tribute to the pursuit of knowledge." — Publishers Weekly

"Illuminating. ... An infectiously enthusiastic history, inspired by genuine affection." — Times Literary Supplement (London)

"Illustrates Garfield’s capacity to synthesise wide-ranging research and present it in a lucid, vibrant style. ... A valentine to the monumental significance of encyclopaedias." — Irish Examiner

"[A] suitably encyclopaedic book—written with all [Garfield's] usual wit and sharp eye for memorable facts." — Reader's Digest

"Entertaining and informative." — The Canberra Times (Australia)

"Fans of Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman and readers who don’t mind plenty of intriguing digression will devour." — Booklist

Product Details
ISBN: 9780063292277
ISBN-10: 0063292270
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 28th, 2023
Pages: 400
Language: English