Knowledge Encyclopedia

Senior Editors: Shaila Brown, Daniel Mills and Ben Morgan

This book is another of Dorling Kindersley’s brilliant blockbusters. It is intriguing that, at a time when so much knowledge is available on the web, the quality of hard copy books is improving so much.

DK set themselves the task of encompassing the whole of human knowledge within 360 pages in a format which is attractive and accessible to children. In view of the massive amount of information in the Encyclopedia Britannica – let alone Wikipedia on the web – how could they do this? They decided on six main sections:

– Space, covering the start of the universe, the solar system and space exploration,
– Earth, dealing with geology, climate and the oceans,
– Nature, including evolution, plants, insects, animals and survival,
– Human Body, what it is made of, bodily systems, the senses and the life cycle,
– Science, including types of matter, forces, energy, its application and electronics, and
– History, covering the ancient world, the mediaeval world, the Renaissance and the modern world.

The book ends with a useful reference section, a glossary and an index.

Each page is carefully designed to draw attention to a few salient features of the subject. As always with DK books, the illustrations are brilliant and often say more than the words which could have filled the same space. The amount of information covered in a book that gives so much space to pictures is quite extraordinary, and it includes quite a few facts of which I was unaware – “30 million new cells will form in your body as you read this sentence”, for example (p.140). Ionic and covalent bonds, Moore’s Law, the battle of Mohacs, gour and the moss rotifer were all new to me.

In summary it is a brilliant book, one that should be in every school, one which parents should buy for their children, or if they don’t, one for grandparents, aunts and uncles to give as a present. At £25 it is excellent value for money.

So, what about the drawbacks? Obviously a single book can only cover the very tip of the iceberg, let alone the massive amount under water, and so there are key areas of knowledge which are omitted or treated skimpily. So the book inevitably cannot be truly encyclopedic, despite the wide range of subject matter.

Look in the index for literature or books, and you will find no references. Indeed the arts and culture are hardly addressed at all, though this is a major area of human endeavour. Transport seems to be limited to a double spread on Stephenson’s Rocket (pp. 310-311), and communication is covered by a description of electronics (pp. 240-241). Racial differences are dodged. Sexual differences are tackled sensibly, with the droll exception of the illustration of touch (p. 169).

In some cases, the choices are rather strange, in view of the pressure on space. Why, for example, was almost as much space given to Hinduism as to all the other world religions put together (pp. 276-277)? And why was there a section headed Loony Leaders (p.345)? If this was an attempt to lighten up, it is out of place and unnecessary.

Two quibbles about design: in trying hard to make the material interesting, some of the features ‘shout at’ the reader, such as the type used in the smaller item on the Cold War, which makes it harder to read (p. 299). Less importantly, it would have been nice if the map of empires had shown the British one in pink, instead of a wishy-washy green (p. 298).

What one hopes is that dipping into a book like this, a child will get hooked on learning, and will move on to more detailed books and other material on the subject which has grabbed him or her, whether it be tectonic plates, dinosaurs, the human cell, gravity or imperial China.

As with other DK blockbusters, this book is a team effort. There are two packed pages of acknowledgements at the end, and the contents page lists about sixty individuals who have contributed, and congratulations should also go to the Hong Hing Printing Group in Hong Kong for the brilliance of their product.

Brown, Shaila, Mills, Daniel and Morgan, Ben (Senior Editors) (2013)
Knowledge Encyclopedia : The world as you’ve never seen it before
Dorling Kindersley, London
ISBN 978 1 4093 3404 0

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