Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia

I used to read a lot as a kid, though it never occurred to me that it was anything unusual. If I ever seem more intelligent than anybody else, it can usually be boiled down to the fact that I’ve probably read more than them.

I used to have a collection of books called “Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia- Super Questions and Answers and Amazing Facts”. I still do! There are 15 volumes- from “Your Body” to “Space Travel”, “Electricity and Magnetism”, “People Around The World”, and my personal favourite- “Stars and Planets and Plants”. I didn’t think much of it back then, but on hindsight those books broadened my horizons and provided me with a substantial amount of general knowledge, perhaps significantly more than my peers.

I learnt, at about 6 or 7, that our bodies were made up of cells, that there were billions of stars in the galaxy, that dinosaurs roamed the Earth 65 million years ago, that there were plants that ate insects. I learnt how solar and lunar eclipses worked, how planes were invented, about ships, televisions, pigmentation, different holidays and cultures around the world, mountains, lightning, skeletons, gravity, the seasons and photosynthesis. I remember how I learnt about sperm cells and egg cells and fertilization, but I had no idea then about how it would actually happen- the book had tactfully left the fun bits out.

I might not have completely understood everything, but it was a fairly impressive amount of knowledge for a young child (I only know this now after interacting with young children who aren’t very much interested in anything) and I developed an effective framework with incredible breadth- and this allowed me to assimilate knowledge more easily later on.

Later in life, I often found myself having remarkably accurate hunches about things, and on hindsight this was probably because I’d been exposed to a lot of valid information earlier- and much of it lingered in my subconscious- I am certain of this, because I can flip through any volume of these encyclopedias and every page strikes me as incredibly familiar. This may have played a role in shaping my personality and attitude towards learning- I was used to being right all the time.

Perhaps most importantly, I was intoxicated by what Richard Feynman describes as the pleasure of finding things out. I loved understanding things, learning about how they worked, developing a sense of awareness about the world around me.

I can’t think of many things more fundamentally important than a love for learning, and I can’t think of a better way to develop that than through reading- through conversation with a superior mind that is patient and understanding.