We didn't have the internet back in the day, we had Time Life book collections
We rank our six favorite series. Alas, the 1-800 number on the screen no longer works.
Growing up, there were bookshelves built into every room of our house. There were bookshelves to the left and right of the fireplace. The kitchen island had bookshelves underneath. Even our childhood bedrooms had bookshelves built into nooks above a desk. This was pretty common with most houses in the neighborhood. The reason was pretty obvious. People just had a lot more books back then.
Today with streaming, Kindles and cloud storage, there's hardly use for bookshelves, aside from aesthetic or decorative reasons.
However, in the '60s, '70s and '80s, there was no easier way to fill that shelving than with Time Life collections. Named after the two popular magazines, Time Life was the book division of Time, Inc. The publishing endeavor kicked off in 1961. Over the following decades, Time Life churned out more than 60 book series. They were akin to encyclopedia volumes, though focused on one particular topic or theme. You could order — typically by calling a 1-800 number off a TV ad — series about the Wild West, home improvement, cooking or supernatural phenomenon. It worked like a subscription, as Time Life would ship you a new volume in the series each month. The series typically included around a couple dozen volumes.
Honestly, it seemed as if we had just about every one in our house. They were stuffed everywhere. Seeing all those matching spines of collected volumes brought to mind the legal offices you'd see on TV shows like Night Court. These suckers covered everything from The Epic of Flight to The Third Reich. Here are our favorites.
Did you read any of these?
Mysteries of the Unknown
A popular favorite. Perhaps you remember the ads that would run late at night on cable. "A series that explores the most controversial phenomena of our time," a deep voice would proclaim. It's no wonder this one ran a whopping 33 volumes, from Alien Encounters to Witches and Witchcraft. There was even one on quantum physics, which, you know, is just science now.
Image: SwozyGustafsson / YouTube
Life Science Library
One of the earliest collections, published between 1963–67, this educational set features notable authors like Arthur C. Clarke (Man and Space) and Carl Sagan (Planets).
World War II
It's no wonder, considering the archive of Life magazine, but these books had beautiful photography — far better than you'll find on a Wikipedia entry for The Battle of Britain, at least. This comprehensive set went up to 39 volumes. The similar Civil War set was another popular one for dads.
Image: wwwnermansbooks.com / eBay
Foods of the World
Beginning in 1968, this 27-volume cookbook collection kicked off the foodie movement. Iconic experts such as James Beard and Julia Child penned the explorations into global cuisine. There weren't a lot of Indian restaurants around at the time, but we learned all about curries from Cooking of India. Seven volumes dug into the regional cooking of America.
Image: AttysVintage / Etsy
The Old West
When not watching The Rifleman, Bonanza or Gunsmoke, we could fill in the blanks with this comprehensive history. Published between 1973–80, these books were perhaps the prettiest, bound in ornate, embossed "leather" with painting of cowboys.
Image: xelfera510 / eBay
LIFE Library of Photography
LIFE was known for its stunning photography. The mag attracted the best of the art form. So this was perhaps the most mesmerizing set through which to casually flip. There was also a more instructive series The Kodak Library of Creative Photography. Speaking of how-to, the Bob Vila–endorsed Home Repair and Improvement series was another common collection to find in dad dens.
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