Here’s our latest dispatch from the basement of the library. We have heard rumors that snow has recently fallen. This can’t be true can it? Obviously at this time of year the calendar says it’s Spring, so temperatures must be balmy and the spring flowers are in full bloom. We would love to smell the flowers with you, but as you know our contract prevents us from venturing upstairs to the outside world. We can only rely on our childhood memories of the outdoors.
We write today of a series of picture books from one of our favorite publishers, DK, short for Dorling Kindersley. They do publish a good number of picture books for children, as well as richly illustrated travel guides, but here we focus on their picture books series aimed at adults. DK in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution publishes a number of single volume works focusing on history, nature, science, travel and more. They tell us that in the days before Wikipedia and the Google, that there used to be printed books called encyclopedias that would tell you a little bit of facts and figures about a lot of things. That’s what these DK books are, an encyclopedic view of a topic. They don’t pretend to give you all the answers, but they do help you to broaden your knowledge of the world we live in and its history.
One of our most recent arrivals in the series is Natural Wonders of the World. In this book you can read about everything from Niagara Falls and the Everglades to the Kalahari Desert and the Siberian taiga. The total book is 438 pages long and each individual entry is a page or two long with a capsule description of the wonder in question with many National Geographic quality photographs and high quality drawings to accompany the text. This book emphasizes what a diverse natural world we reside in and illustrates not only wondrous places, but also the natural processes and phenomena that help shape the world we live in.
Another recent acquisition is Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel. We find this book to be right up our alley. Over 5,000 years of the recorded history of travel can be found in this volume. Here you can read all about the planes, trains, automobiles, boats, bicycles, balloons, stagecoaches, rocket ships and more that people have used to get from point A to point B. The earliest travelers with written records of their journeys were the Mesopotamians and the Minoans, but the Persians, Phoenicians and Polynesians were not far behind. Today, people are planning trips to asteroids and to Mars. In Journey you can also read about famous travel paths from the Northwest Passage to Route 66. Our favorite entry is the one for the “Hippie Trail.” Apparently in the 1960s lots of hippies hitchhiked their way from Europe to India to seek enlightenment. We remember that the Beatles did this to meet with the Maharishi. We think that the Beatles probably had a better travel agent than your everyday hippie.
Now a cynic or a smartypants would ask, can you cover the natural world in 438 pages, the history of travel in 440 pages, or even remarkable books in 256? Probably not, but we think having a wide knowledge of the world, natural or otherwise, is a good thing to have. That is probably what we like best about the DK/Smithsonian books. We enjoy them because to us they present reading as armchair travel. We try to travel and see and experience as much of the world as is possible, but know that we have neither the time or money to go everywhere we want. Like the National Geographic magazines of old, the DK encyclopedias can help us see the whole world from our small corner of it. They offer a nice perspective on life.
Some of the DK/Smithsonian books we have in the library are:
- Natural Wonders of the World
- Wildlife of the World
- Car: the definitive visual history of the automobile
- Civil war: a visual history
- Design: the definitive visual history
- Fashion: the definitive history of costume and style
- Journey: an illustrated history of travel
- Aircraft: the definitive visual history
- Music: the definitive visual history
- Remarkable Books