Although admitting this may qualify me as a one-hundred percent board-certified nerd (dweeb, Poindexter, etc.), I’ve loved reference books for as long as I can remember. And they’ve come a long way since three clever Scots dreamed up the first Encyclopædia Brittanica in Edinburgh in 1768. Over the years they’ve become much more accessible, engaging, and, dare I say, delightful, in large part thanks to a company called Dorling Kindersley Limited, better known as DK Publishing.
I first became aware of DK Publishing through their expansive Eyewitness series. As a grade school student in the early nineties, a trip to the local public library invariably had me beelining to the Juvenile Non-Fiction shelves where I would seek out those easily identifiable, slightly oversized hardback books featuring full-color photographs and illustrations paired with easy-to-digest explanatory text, all on a white background. Dinosaurs, solar systems, extreme weather (volcanos, tornadoes, and earthquakes oh my!)—the DK Eyewitness Books seemed to hold a universe of not just information, but wonder.
Fast forward twenty-something years and while I’m more or less happy with my personal collection of Idiot’s Guides, CliffsNotes and For Dummies titles, there seems to be something missing. While excessively informative, these series all lacked something in the presentation that I couldn’t put my finger on. That is, until I came across my first title in a brand new DK series (this one geared toward an audience of any age) known as Big Ideas Simply Explained.
My entry point for the BISE series was The Literature Book, which I discovered quite by accident while browsing at my local library. The bold red text on the spine of the square book with the cool blue dust jacket grabbed my attention immediately. A quick flip through the pages revealed a wellspring of colorful graphics, pithy quotations, succinct timelines, and well-organized blocks of text. It was, for me, the perfect marriage of information and presentation, and the entire history of the written word opened before me begging to be explored. As these things happen, one title in the series naturally led me to the next, and I found my new favorite non-fiction book series.
My delight was redoubled when I discovered the series was also available on audiobook. While not all titles are currently available (one being, understandably, The Art Book) and you will miss out on the eye-catching design, the majority of the content translates to audio better than I expected. While, sadly, our library doesn’t currently have any titles in this format, the audiobooks are available through platforms such as Audible and Libro.fm.
At the time of this post, there are twenty-nine titles available in the BISE series, on a huge variety of subjects across the worlds of art, science, history, religion, among many others. (See my list for the complete collection). And don’t forget to place your hold on the upcoming The Black History Book, due out in October of this year.