Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book: Practical Knowledge for All Vol 4 by Hammerton

I picked up this encyclopedia from a charity book store, attracted by it's musty smell, hand-drawn diagrams, yellowed pages and satisfying hand-feel. The book belongs to a set some 65 years old and so the knowledge is pretty dated. But herein lies the attraction and value: when you read a reference book that is partially defunct by its age you are reading a snapshot of our understanding of the world at a specific point in time (i..e there is an element of social history, an appreciation for our changing world and also for our changing outlooks and understandings).

My favourite entry was on the United States, which is described with a certain colour that clearly tells of the some of the differences between Britain and the US at the time, differences that have since narrowed.

"...the American is a youth on the word's stage. 

His growing years have been spent farther and farther from the Old Word, for the centre of the population has steadily gone to the West. New York, alleged to be the greatest agglomeration of buying power the world has yet seen, is but the nexus of the links between the Middle West and Europe. His growth has been achieved in relation to the concept: "better merely because bigger." For him, as he spread over untrodden ways, "bigger" has not necessarily meant "better", and bigger must be interpreted as not only greater in size but larger in number; bigger has implied mass-production, which means the making of much wealth by means of an infinitude of small profits. Hence he has grown to the gospel of work - make things, make more things, make yet more things, and have acquired the habit of making, sell the things. But to sell has meant selling as the price the customer can pay, not selling at the price which the maker has demanded, and selling has become a fetish, an art exalted by its practitioners....

...Such are the United States, a newcomer inviting the staid Old World to slough its antiquities, its habit of making war, its slavish devotion to futile formalities, which served well even the last generation"

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