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The Brief History Of A Very Big Book

The Brief History Of A Very Big Book

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In the age of Wikipedia, it has been forgotten how important the Encyclopedia Britanica once was in the mind of the English-reading Indian. Seen as the supreme repository of knowledge, it was also a status symbol sought as bookshelf adornment. What most people do not know at all is how an intrepid band of Tamil intellectuals, inspired seventy-five years ago by the Britannica, decided to create an encyclopedia in their own language. They felt a linguistic system as advanced as theirs, with a literary history stretching two millennia, needed to showcase its civilisational achievement: it was imperative that Tamil boast its own encyclopedia. The odds against realising this ideal were impossible. And yet the project of compiling the Kalaikkalanjiyam – the Tamil Encyclopedia – began and was soon unstoppable. This intriguing episode of Indian intellectual life is as forgotten as its narration here is compelling. Book history comes brilliantly alive in A.R. Venkatachalapathy’s vibrant chronicling – from the conception of an extravagant idea to its execution as a printed work. This story of lofty ideals and financial scandals, bruised egos and ideological conflicts reveals a fascinating world of cultural enterprise, political struggle, and regional nationalism.

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A. R. Venkatachalapathy / books about books / history / indian / nonfiction /