Encyclopaedia Britannica

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


the oldest and one of the most famous universal encyclopedias in the capitalist world.

The first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published in three volumes in Edinburgh from 1768 to 1771. On the whole, the first eight editions were not of a very high standard. K. Marx, who used the eighth edition of the encyclopedia, remarked (based on his study of the articles on military and historical subjects) in a letter to F. Engels on July 16, 1857, that this encyclopedia was “copied almost verbatim from German and French publications” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 29, p. 123). The ninth edition (1875-89, in 25 volumes) of the Britannica showed considerable improvement, especially in the sections on the natural and exact sciences. The 11th edition (1910-11, in 29 volumes) is considered to be the best: the content was broadened, biographies of living figures were included for the first time, and the scientific content of a number of articles was highly esteemed by contemporaries. The extremely well-compiled index was also noteworthy. In 1929 the 14th edition of the Britannica was published in 24 volumes; it was the last edition to be numbered. Since that time the Britannica has been published using the so-called continuous revision system, according to which a small portion of the articles are revised at the time of each annual reprinting. Some American and British scholars, in analyzing the Encyclopaedia Britannica, have noted that most of the articles have been reprinted for many years without any changes although many of them contain outmoded, erroneous information.

The predominant type of article is an extended survey of a broad subject, as a result of which the number of entries is comparatively small (averaging 40,000 terms). The publishers of the Britannica draw upon scholars from approximately 50 countries to write the articles. Many questions of history, philosophy, politics, and economics are explained from anticommunist points of view.

At the beginning of the 20th century a joint Anglo-American venture was formed to work on the Britannica, a fact which has led to its transformation into a British-American encyclopedia both in content and in the basic staff of authors and editors. Since the early 1940’s the Britannica has been published in Chicago by Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., headed by W. Benton (died 1973). An editorial section of the Britannica has been retained in London. Since 1938 yearbooks entitled Britannica Book of the Year . . . have been brought out (in separate American and British editions).

In 1947, four supplementary volumes of the Britannica were published, reflecting the events of 1937-46 connected with World War II and its preparation and consequences. For the 200th anniversary of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in 1968, three volumes were issued containing major articles on various branches of knowledge. In 1969 announcements appeared in the press concerning the initial stage of preparing a new edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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The disappearance of the Encyclopedia Britannica from shelves in libraries and living rooms is another sign of the close of the age that began with Johannes Gutenberg's introduction of moveable type to Europe in the 15th century.
? THE Encyclopedia Britannica will, from this year, no longer be available in printed form.
The episode brought to mind the following exchange in contributing editor David Samuels's interview with Maen Rashid Areikat, the P.A.'s ambassador to the United States, in which Areikat waffles on the same question even in the face of the Encyclopedia Britannica article detailing the connection:
1999: The Encyclopedia Britannica put all 32 volumes onto the internet for free.