JG Ballard's Book of Knowledge

Whenever he was bored his mother had told him, "'Go and read The Eight Volumes.' That was her name for them," he chuckles. "It was the nearest thing to television."

Marianne Brace interviewing JG Ballard, Independent, 15 Sept 2006

'I sold encyclopaedias door to door, a job at which I was surprisingly successful, partly because the Waverley encyclopaedia was the one I had read as a child in Shanghai — I knew it backwards and genuinely believed in it. ... and I often waived my commission ... to secure for them the hours of intelligent pleasure I had known as a child.

JG Ballard, Miracles of Life, 2008

Cassell & Co publishers created the Waverley Book Company in 1909 to distrubute deluxe editions. One of their most successful products was the eight volume Book of Knowledge, the beloved encyclopaedia Ballard talks about above.

We can't be sure exactly which edition the Ballard family owned in the 1930s, but it was probably very similar to this one, which is undated, but internal evidence suggests it was produced in the 1920s.

As it is out of copyright, I have made a complete searchable facsimile of the Book of Knowledge so we can share the articles and images that so enraptured and enthused the young Ballard.

It's interesting to note that in 1992, Cassell & Co bought Victor Gollancz Ltd, Ballard's first British book publisher. (Thanks to David Pringle for that and other helpful leads.)

As a start, I recommend the articles on Aeroplane, Apperception (for its now shocking racism), Architecture, Army, Astronomy, Brain, China, Inventions, Kinematograph, Motor-Car, Novel, Race, Shanghai, Science, Wireless and World War.

You can browse by letter below, or use the search to find a particular subject or word.

It is impossible to make pdfs display properly on all platforms in all browsers, if you can't see the pages properly, please try a different browser.

Mike Bonsall - December 2011 - m dot bonsall at gmail dot com

Search by Letter:

Title Page A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Index

Colour Plates:

Reading Africa's Fortunes in its Face
The Glorious Victory of Elizabeth's Seamen over the Spanish Armada
Things You Should Know About Asia
The Busy Bees and their Cousins
Chaucer Riding to Canterbury with the Pilgrims
The Great Brazilian Forest and its Zoo
How the Bridge-builder Makes his Conquests
The Decisive Moment of Caesar's Life
Jacques Cartier Claims Canada for France
The Clerk who Won India for Britain (Lord Clive)
The Triumph of the Man who was Not Afraid. Columbus Landing in America, October 12, 1492
Blind Milton dictating his Immortal Poem
Beautiful Builders of Coral Islands
The Radiant Beauty of the Lovely Pearl Mosque
In the Wonderful World of the Underseas
Lovely Egyptian Ruins that Come and Go
The "Red Monster" in Old-time Britain
American Indians About to Make an Attack
The Country Girl who Led a King to Victory (Joan of Arc)
Guarding the Gate Between Two Continents (Gibraltar)
Some Beautiful British Grasses and Sedges
Hannibal Crossing the Mighty Alps
Hans Holbein at Work in His Studio
The Man who Found the Cape Route to India (Vasco da Gama)
The Giant Sentinel of the English Channel (Eddystone Lighthouse)
The Great Dr. Johnson and his Humble Friends
The Boy who Could Draw before he was Six (Sir Edwin Landseer)
The Fearless Sailor who Linked Two Oceans
The Musician who Won a Queen's Favour (Rizzio and Mary Queen of Scots)
The Arabian Founder of a Great Religion (Mohammed)
Winning the Hearts of his Royal Audience (Mozart)
A Swift Fighting Giant of the British Navy
Race in Memory of a Great Greek Victory
A Wonder Work that Joins Two Oceans (Panama Canal)
Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers
Where Egypt's Kings of Old were Buried
The Lion-hearted King in the Holy Land (Richard I )
A Posy of the Queens of Roseland
The Creator of the Old Russian Empire (Peter the Great)
The Spanish Armada Sails against England
The Beloved and Heroic ''Wizard of the North" (Sir Walter Scott)
A Strange "Iron Horse" of Long Ago ("Puffing Billy")
Swift and the Creatures of his Fancy
Victorian England's Sweetest Singer (Tennyson)
Music in a Gateway of the Olden World (Tunis)
One of Earth's vast Fiery Chimneys (Volcano)
Winged Words that Rescue Lives at Sea (Wireless)
Monster Greyhounds of the Rails
Some Beautiful Specimens of British Birds' Eggs
Flags and Badges of the British Empire
The Gorgeous Crown Jewels of Britain
Flags of Countries Old and New