Any self propelled quest for knowledge is always a difficult endeavor. Unlike the studies one might engage in a structured approach to knowledge, as in universities, there can be a severe lack of direction in an individual’s attempt. While the confines of a course syllabus is often what drives a desire to self educate, to ignore the benefits of scope definition, would be foolish. There is an uncountable number of things which I don’t know absolutely anything about, things which culture, media and other texts push into your face every now and again. The obvious act would be to use the Internet and get for yourself a basic understanding of the topic as you come across it. This act while noble in theory, hardly is ever practiced in a world where Wikipedia offers short excerpts of dubious information.

So I, a perennial lover of Encyclopedic Texts decided to find for myself a series of works which shall introduce to me some rather intriguing and famous topics in culture, philosophy, science and arts. I set about identifying the perfect set of volumes on these domains which I could pick up without the trouble of making decisions of what to read for each. Even the act of querying the World wide web seems a laborious one. So I looked at the famed series of non fiction books which I could lay my hands on. These are few of those considered:

  1. Penguin Great Ideas : Penguin has been one of the foremost house of Publishing in the Modern World. It has rolled out thousands of books many of which have shaped our current perception of the world and shaped its culture greatly. This series is a collection of 100 books comprising mostly of essays by hugely famous writers compiled and re edited into individual volumes. This series comprises of some serious firepower and did not seem to foot the bill of a short introduction to topics of potential interest. Read more here.
  2. Oxford Hand Books : For those who seek details of some rather specific topics this promises to be a good series. The entire list of published works and the details of the articles in them can be found here. If you have Library card access, you should be able to access them online.
  3. Introducing Books : The hankering for cursory knowledge to make polite party conversation and to be counted in the intelligent few is not a new need. As you shall see through history through short manuals and encyclopedias men ( and women of course ) have tried to maintain a basic understanding of their surroundings. It is bearing this mass appeal of General Information that we find the Introducing books series. The Graphic Guides or the more textual books have been around since 1976. I haven’t yet managed to lay hands on a single book from this but the general opinion on the internet hints at this series being more trivial than serious reading. Read more here.
  4. Very Short Introductions : The Oxford University Press introduced this series in 1995 with established area experts opining on broad areas from Philosophy to Physics. There are about 390 topics covered in this series till date, making it a very diverse set of books. These have been written some well known authors already published by OUP previously. So a more academically inclined approach to any of the topics along with a an enjoyable literary experience seems in store for those picking up books from this series.

One could go on exploring the thousands of series ever published, delivering a reasonable summation of human knowledge through books. Such a pursuit would lead to the collection of  knowledge of these books instead of what they contain. So I finally picked up the VSI series to broaden my horizons. I harbor no illusions that a single set of books, aiming at commercial goals shall serve with perfection the needs of knowledge but they do posses the ability to shape the direction for further reading.

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