best-selling one-volume encyclopaedia, issued annually
What is the population of Stockholm? the atomic number of calcium? or the best way to treat frostbite? To get all the answers in a one-volume reference guide, you need Pears Cyclopaedia. Pears’ (not the soap or fruit) is a long-established classic of compressed facts and knowledge. It packs all sorts of topics into a handy desktop book of reference. Editions vary from year to year, but the fundamental sections remain the same. An edition bought at any time will last you for years and years. There’s a potted chronology of world events (starting at 70,000,000 BC); then a list of prominent people, with thumbnail biographies; and sections on literature, art, and music – complete with mini-essays on the major topics covered.
The centre of the book is an atlas with a huge index which even lists the position and populations of small villages. There are sections on economic events and political institutions (including recent UK parliamentary statistics); and an encyclopaedia of general knowledge, plus science in the form of chemistry, medicine, computers, and the environment. Ideas and beliefs cover the major world philosophies, and the myths and legends get a section of their own, as does a Biblical glossary.
You have to put up with an absence of page numbers, and strangely enough, the index to the book itself is quite small; but since the entries in most sections are arranged either chronologically or alphabetically, information is easy to locate. This is the work of reference I use most apart from dictionaries and my old copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica. It’s one of those books which you’ll find difficult to put down, once you start browsing. New editions appear in August of each year.
Pears’ Cyclopedia was first produced by the Queen’s soap-makers in 1897 on the occasion of Victoria’s diamond jubilee. It has been revised and updated every year since then, and is still going strong as what the publisher’s rightly claim as ‘the Swiss Army penknife of reference books.
© Roy Johnson 2000
Pears’ Cyclopaedia London: Allen Lane, (issued annually) pp.832, ISBN: 1846143764