In the early 1960s, my parents bought my youngest brother a box of LEGO bricks. That was the beginning of our family's appreciation for LEGO, which continues to this day (I recently gave my LEGO robot mini-toy to my favorite 9-year-old, but I still use my LEGO gym bag and have a LEGO soccer player minifig on my desk). In our local shopping mall, the Apple store used to be right next to the LEGO store, and I have spent a lot more time with LEGO toys than "Apples". My son and daughter still have thousands of bricks and minifigs and accessories in storage here and there. So when I got the chance to review a book called The Cult of LEGO, I was eager to get started. Was my enthusiasm for the project rewarded? Read on and find out.
Brick by brick
The book gets off to a somewhat slow start, and at first I wasn't sure I liked it. The first chapters are an introduction to the history of LEGO, and they read rather like an employee manual translated from Danish into English. Then there are chapters on AFOLs (Adult Friends of LEGO) and on women builders (adult female LEGO builders are apparently a rare breed) and on enthusiasts' brick storage systems.
It isn't till the section called Ingenious LEGO that the book really starts to pick up speed. Here's where we find illustrations of such things as Google founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page's LEGO brick server enclosure, a LEGO guitar for Guitar Hero, and a LEGO viewfinder that snaps into the One Laptop Per Child's USB port to help frame photos with the forward-facing camera. From here on out, there are photos of LEGO constructions jam-packed into the book. I was sorry I was reading it in e-book format because it would be easier to match up the captions with the photos in a printed book. Its description refers to it as a "coffee table book," meaning one with a larger format so the illustrations can be properly appreciated.
Not an instruction manual
The Cult of LEGO isn't a book of instructions on how to build your own "ingenious LEGO." It's a celebration of the imagination of LEGO builders around the world, and the ways in which they've used standard and modified LEGO bricks to build all kinds of things that don't come in the standard LEGO boxed sets. It's clear that the authors know and love LEGO and wrote the book because of their own enthusiasm for the subject. They've found illustrations of some amazing LEGO projects and they talk about ways to modify LEGO bricks that many of us wouldn't have thought of. It was interesting to learn that the original LEGO patents have expired, so it's not against the law to make your own LEGO bricks, and many artists have done just that. While the authors spend some time commenting on the inferior quality of knockoff LEGO bricks, they have a great deal of enthusiasm for these artistic LEGO creators, who use plastic molding, decals, paint, and LED lights in their own LEGO variations. Some of those products are for sale, some are just for the builders' own creations.
Little people and more
I had never thought much about the minifigs (the little Lego people) till I read the section about them in The Cult of LEGO. While I was aware that there is a variety of figures available, it never occurred to me that they were not all the same color, or that the company's choice of colors for some minifigs was controversial. The book has a photo of just some of the different variations in the minifigs and that was really an attention grabber. There are quite a few artists who specialize in custom minifigs, and there are many ways that the LEGO enthusiast can customize their own. There are delightful photos of minifigs representing all kinds of famous people, both real and fictional. It's clear that a lot of artists have really put their creative minds to work on these little people.
Art, craft, and artistry
A lot of the book is devoted to the people who create amazing things out of LEGO (with great photos of their creations) and the ways that LEGO pieces can be used to make just about anything, including a lot of items I certainly never would have thought of (like mosaics and model trains). In some of my book reviews I go into a great deal of detail about the book's contents, but in this case, I think too much information ahead of time would spoil a lot of the surprises. I can pretty much guarantee that if you've ever used LEGO you will find something in this book that will surprise the daylights out of you. These little bricks can be put to use in so many more ways than just building castles and towers, and the minifigs can look like anyone you might imagine. The photos are amazing, and the book's design (featuring LEGO-brick graphics and the same bright primary colors as the bricks) is very appealing to the eye. With the history of LEGO, the descriptions of the ways people have gone beyond what's in the original box, and the photos of all those amazing creations, The Cult of LEGO is a clear winner.