You could look it up : the reference shelf from ancient Babylon to Wikipedia

Lynch, Jack (John T.), author

Publication Details Click to collapse Cite/Export

  • Creator Jack Lynch
  • Format Books
  • Publication New York : Bloomsbury Press, 2016. ©2016
  • Physical Details
    • 453 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of color plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
  • ISBNs 9780802777522, 080277752X, 9780802777942
  • OCLC ocn898418972


  • Today we think of Wikipedia as the source of all information, the ultimate reference. Yet it is just the latest in a long line of aggregated knowledge -- reference works that have shaped the way we've seen the world for centuries. You Could Look It Up chronicles the stories behind these great works and their contents, and the way they have influenced each other. From The Code of Hammurabi, the earliest known compendium of laws in ancient Babylon almost two millennia before Christ to Pliny's Natural History; from the 11th-century Domesday Book recording land holdings in England to Abraham Ortelius's first atlas of the world; from Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language to The Whole Earth Catalog to Google, Jack Lynch illuminates the human stories and accomplishment behind each, as well as its enduring impact on civilization. In the process, he offers new insight into the value of knowledge.


  • Includes bibliographical references (pages 401-424) and index.


  • Prologue: Looking it up -- Justice in the Earth: Laws of the ancient world -- Of making many books: Information overload -- In the beginning was the word: The first dictionaries -- A fraction of the total: Counting reference books -- The history of nature: Science in antiquity -- Easy as ABC: The rise (and fall?) of alphabetical order -- Round Earth's imagined corners: Mapping the world -- The invention of the codex -- The circle of the sciences: Ancient encyclopedias -- The dictionary gets its day in court -- Leechcraft: Medieval medicine -- Plagiarism: The crime of literary theft -- New Worlds: Cartography in an age of discovery -- Tell me how you organize your books -- Admirable artifice: Computers before computers -- To bring people together: Societies -- The infirmity of human nature: Guides to error -- Ignorance, pure ignorance: Of omissions, ambiguities, and plain old blunders -- Guarding the avenues of language: Dictionaries in the eighteenth century -- Of ghosts and Mountweazels -- The way of faith: Guidelines for believers -- Who's who and what's what: Making the cut -- Erotic recreations: Sex manuals -- The boys' club -- Collecting knowledge into the smallest areas: The great encyclopedias -- Dictionary or encyclopedia? -- Of redheads and Babus: Dictionaries and empire -- A small army: Collaborative endeavors -- Killing time: Games and sports -- Out of print -- Monuments of erudition: The great national dictionaries -- Counting editions -- Grecian glory, Roman grandeur: Victorian eyes on the ancient world -- Lost projects: What might have been -- Words telling their own stories: The historical dictionaries -- Overlong and overdue -- An Alms-Basket of words: The reference book as salvation -- Reading the dictionary -- Modern materia medica: Staying healthy -- Incomplete and abandoned projects -- The foundation stone: Library catalogs -- Index learning -- The good life: The arts and high society -- Some unlikely reference books -- Presumed purity: Science in a scientific age -- At no extra cost! The business of reference books -- Full and authoritative information: Doctrine for the modern world -- Unpersons: Damnatio memoriae -- Nothing special: Books for browsers -- Epilogue: The world's information: The encyclopedia dream
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