WOW! The visual encyclopedia of everything by Kim Bryan et al.

The cover says it all. For a start Wow!: The Visual Encyclopedia of Everything (Dk Reference) feels chunky and weighty. In big indented silver letters there is the title, WOW! Surrounding it, there are 2560* images of all sorts of things, telling you that the book has a lot of subject matter inside the covers.What does WOW stand for? Not War on Want, nor Where’s our Willie? nor the World of Warcraft, which is the top WOW in Google. World of Wonder perhaps? What or Where? We’re out of Words? Whatever.

The cover has a helpful subtitle, “the visual encyclopedia of everything” – a big claim. Look inside the book and you’ll find it absolutely packed with all sorts of fascinating information, such that you will probably end up saying “WOW!” at every page.

There are over 300 pages, and the book is made up of double-spreads, each one being given over to a different subject – flags, electricity, North America – they all get two pages. There are eight sections – Nature, Human body, Science and technology, Space, Earth, People and places, History and Art and culture. It is impossible to get bored with it, as there is something new every time you turn a page.

It is aimed at “visual learners”, and technically the book is brilliant, and some of the photographs are excellent. I especially liked the black-browed albatross, who reminds me of someone in the Cabinet. The design is outstanding, with every double-spread packing in a lot of information very clearly. The quality of the printing is also first-rate. The publisher’s blurb calls it “visually amazing” and a “photographic feast”; they are right.

There are forty-six names in the credits, rather like the list shown at the end of an epic when everyone is trying to get out of the cinema, but they’ve done a good job, and deserve to be named.

When you have read this book, you will have no problem coping with pub quizzes, as it is a mine of information. There is even a Reference section at the back, with little snippets which you can sneak into lulls in conversations and amaze your friends. “Did you know…?”

… that the smallest mammal is the bumblebee bat, weighing in at just 2 grams (0.07 ounces) – lighter than a penny coin?

… that the nineteenth century British surgeon Robert Liston could cut off a leg in 28 seconds (but we bet that he was useless at sewing them back on if he got the wrong one)?

… that Isaac Newton’s dog, Diamond, knocked over a candle and started a fire which destroyed 20 years’ work?

… that one billion people do not have enough to eat?

Any criticisms? Inevitably there are limits to the information which a 300-page book can hold. All of Literature is on two pages, but Caves, Robots and Plankton also get double-spreads to themselves. Art consists of 19 small reproductions of paintings, the Classical World is limited to ten busts of famous Greeks and Romans, and Fish is limited to descriptions of eleven species. The blurb says that WOW! is an “indispensable reference book” where you can “learn all about” subjects; my view is that it provides breadth of subject matter, but not a lot of depth. To get the fuller picture on any particular subject, you will need to turn to other books.

The downside of the WOW! title is that it is rather sensationalist in trying – possibly too hard – to get the attention of children. There is a danger that readers will end up getting a confusing smattering of all sorts of things, but no clear grasp of any of them, as the space per heading is so limited.

On balance, though, I do not think that these drawbacks should put you off buying the book. The sheer range of information should help children get an idea of the scale of knowledge open to them, and they may be introduced to new subjects which they would not otherwise have come across. WOW! should be seen as a collection of tasters rather than the substantive full explanations of the subjects. And who knows? – tasters can interest children to investigate more, leading to lifetime interests and careers.

WOW! could offer a new family game – “Did you know…?” with parents and children trying to catch each other out with questions based on the book, and with any person not knowing the answer having to concede a WOW! The game would only end when the whole family knows everything in the book, and there is no more WOW! factor.

In summary it is an excellent book for young and old, and outstanding value for money at £19.99. A good book for a prize or to use a book token.

(* There would have been if there had been no writing on the cover.)

Wow!: The Visual Encyclopedia of Everything (Dk Reference) (2008)

Kim Bryan et al.

Dorling and Kindersley

ISBN 978-1-40532-248-5




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