In this age of computerized databases, and web references, I find something comforting in a dusty old reference volume. Aside from the pragmatic arguments that they never crash, and it is easy to find what you're looking for, etc., there is just something about these volumes that speaks of wisdom.

There are certain types of information that are particularly suited to this style of representation. This is mostly stuff you will find in the reference section of your library. Things like the battered copy of Webster's New World College Dictionary that sits on my desk. It finds words the spell checkers choke on. It provides interesting information, and the sheer density of the information means that you often can't help but read an entry near the one you were looking for, the word you don't recognize. You read it, and you've learned something new, and it cost only the effort required to lift the weight of the book. Mathematical references are also well represented in this manner. I have a great book of integrals and differential equations. If you really want to learn something, flip through my 1969 edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. There were quotes in there from Martin Luther King Jr. that I had never heard before, not the stuff of his speaches in front of the masses, but more thoughful, truely insightful stuff, such as from his acceptance speach for the Nobel Peace Prize. There are quotes from Greeks and Romans I had never heard of, who had profound things to say, that have been all but lost along the way.

As much as I enjoy the new media, and the limitless resources of this worldwide internetwork, there is something about an old reference volume, overflowing with information, devoid of rants or made up facts, these books speak with great authority on that which they know, be it the english language, or math, or words of wisdom from ages past, they are unlikely to be mistaken. Beautiful, in their own, dusty, way...

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