Three Books Celebrating the Success of Lego

The Lego Book
by Daniel Lipkowitz

Standing Small: A Celebration of Thirty Years of the Lego Minifigure
by Nevin Martell

Star Wars : The Visual Dictionary
by Simon Beecroft

These three books are difficult to review as they are so unusual. They celebrate different aspects of the success of Lego over the last four decades, the first being a general history, the second a history of the Minifigures over the last thirty years, and the third a history of their special Star Wars sets. The first two volumes are published together in a box, and all three are beautifully produced by DK (Dorling Kindersley), with all the vibrant simple colours of Lego bricks, superbly photographed and well designed. A ‘cast of thousands’ (listed at the back of each book) has contributed to their production, and they each deserve commendation for the quality of the three publications.

The History

The story began when Ole Kirk Kristiansen, a Danish master carpenter, bought a workshop in Billund to build house and furniture. In 1932 because of the Great Depression he turned to making wooden toys of high quality, and it was in 1954 that Godtfred Kirk Christiansen realised that there was no system in the toy industry, selecting the production of Lego as the way of changing the industry.

After covering the early history, the book goes through the developments in the history of Lego from its patenting in 1958 onwards, including the catalogues, new developments, the making of the bricks, the design of sets, the various special sets – trains, castles, space travel, pirates, action sets, racers, Duplo, sets for little children and girls, Technic, super models, Legoland parks, fashion, and education. The 200 pages are packed with every sort of Lego set and every aspect of the sale and use of Lego.

Little People

The 96 pages of this book are devoted to a history of Lego Minifigures. Begun just over thirty years ago, there are now over 2,500 different official characters, not counting all the ones that the public have customised. They are selling at a rate of 3.9 per second or 122 million a year. Lego reckon that there are over four billion in existence, and, unless there is some huge Minifigure destroyer on the planet, I reckon that there will be more Minifigures than humans by 2029.

There are police, firemen, cooks, spacemen, doctors, sheriffs, chefs, ice cream men, coast guard pilots, truckers, warriors, knights, archers, kings, princesses, harbour workers, bankers (interestingly placed alongside bandits in the book), pirates and specials such as Spongebob Squarepants, the Joker and Indiana Jones. Will there be any end to their inventiveness? Perhaps it will one day become a sign of international recognition for celebrities to be modelled as Minifigures, rather like being included in the Simpsons.

Star Wars

Star Wars : The Visual Dictionary starts with a timeline which catalogues every set produced and the date they came out. The main text (96 pages) then covers them all in detail, with their official names, the number of pieces in each set and the Stars Wars films in which they figured. The pictures show how some of the machines are constructed, and the sheer detail and ingenuity of design are quite extraordinary, with the two-page spread of the Millennium Falcon probably the most impressive (pp. 44-45). The book ends with ways in which people have taken things further – an Echo Base which took four years to build, for example, and a carbonite sculpture of Han Solo by Nathan Sawaya, using 10,000 bricks and more interesting than any cow in formaldehyde.

You will appreciate from this write-up that I consider that both the book and the Lego sets it portrays are technologically excellent, but I do have one complaint. There have been times when I have wanted to buy basic Lego sets in toy shops, as I think that they give children greater scope for invention and imagination, but the emphasis on the sales of special sets has meant that the specials have been the only ones available.

Who Are They For?

The question is quite who these books are for. Clearly, if you are a Lego enthusiast, whether you are an adult or a child, you will really enjoy poring over them. For the non-enthusiast they provide a fascinating skim-and-dip read; as coffee-table books they could provide a talking-point or keep visitors interested while you make the coffee. The books contain quite a bit of text, but it is the pictures which attract you and essentially they present as glorified catalogues. They are not really the sort of thing to read with children at bedtime, and are probably intended in any case to do no more than celebrate Lego’s achievements.

In due course, they could be collectors’ pieces, and as the Star Wars volume comes with an exclusive Minifigure of Luke Skywalker it should probably be stored carefully for presentation at an Antiques Roadshow in 2059.

Lipkowitz, Daniel (2009) The Lego Book
ISBN: 978-1-4053-4169-1

Martell, Nevin (2009) Standing Small: A Celebration of Thirty Years of the Lego Minifigure
ISBN: 978-1-40534-169-1

Beecroft, Simon (2009) Star Wars : The Visual Dictionary
ISBN: 978-1-40534-747-1

All three books published by DK (Dorling Kindersley), London

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