Wikipedia: The Death of the Printed Reference Book?

Anyone remember “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know “? This 1988 national bestseller by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. sparked a flurry of debate in educational and intellectual circles about the quality of our education system. Shortly after Hirsch’s tome came “The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy” (co-authored by Joseph F. Kett and James Trefil), a hard cover coffee table book to turn even the dimmest of us into instant pedants. As a voracious book buyer (as well as of every other consumer good Madison Avenue could throw at me), I bought this book and still have it today. (In true bandwagonesque fashion, it was soon followed by “Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences” in 1989. Math…yawn.)
Last night my girlfriend remarked about rumors of Rudy Giuliani running for the presidency in 2008. (I had already heard this earlier that day on BBC World Service via Sirius satellite radio. Ironic that I bought my Sirius receiver/subscription to follow Howard Stern, only to be hooked by the soothing voice of our Anglo brethren.) I thought, interesting: have we ever had a non Anglo-Saxon president? Then she asked if the term Anglo-Saxon included people of non-English descent. I confessed I didn’t know for sure, though I thought Saxony was not in England. So, I reached for Hirsch and Co.’s desktop reference. The horror, the horror! No listing for the term “Anglo-Saxon” in the index. And the definition for the related “WASP” term was woefully inadequate.
Between my girlfriend and me, we have three PCs: two laptops and a destop. At any one time, at least one is powered up. The time it took to find exactly what I wanted to know about Anglo-Saxons, including copying and pasting the Wikipedia URL into an email to my girlfriend, took considerably less time than NOT finding it in print. (On a related note, it warmed my heart to see her doing some internet research on WW II after watching a recent broadcast of Joseph E. Levine’s “A Bridge Too Far”– in my opinion, the greatest war epic ever made. May our children have equal or greater intellectual curiosity well into adulthood.) Sure, Wikipedia has its detractors/critics. But I have yet to see anything that is heinously incorrect or inaccurate (yet). I dig it.
“The Dictionary” has since been updated in 2002. I must admit, I AM curious… But like the super compression of my 500+ CD music collection into a small 4×6” box, I prefer to travel lightly nowadays, at least when it comes to information.

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