The Cult of Lego: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review

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Today’s book is one I picked up on a whim from the library, yet I am happy to report that upon reading it I learned lots of interesting new trivia about everyone’s favourite, foot-stabbing toy, Lego.  The Cult of Lego is a coffee-table sized, photograph-laden romp through the history of the humble, foot-stabbing Lego brick and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

No, this isn’t a book about joining some fringe cult. It’s a book by LEGO® fans, for LEGO fans, and you and your kids will love it.

In The Cult of LEGO, Wired’s GeekDad blogger John Baichtal andBrickJournal founder Joe Meno take you on a magnificent, illustrated tour of the LEGO community, its people, and their creations.

The Cult of LEGO introduces us to fans and builders from all walks of life. People like professional LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya; enigmatic Dutch painter Ego Leonard (who maintains that he is, in fact, a LEGO minifig); Angus MacLane, a Pixar animator who builds CubeDudes, instantly recognizable likenesses of fictional characters; Brick Testament creator Brendan Powell Smith, who uses LEGO to illustrate biblical stories; and Henry Lim, whose work includes a series of models recreating M.C. Escher lithographs and a full-scale, functioning LEGO harpsichord.

Marvel at spectacular LEGO creations like:

A life-sized Stegosaurus and an 80,000-brick T. Rex skeleton Detailed microscale versions of landmarks like the Acropolis and Yankee Stadium A 22-foot long, 350-pound re-creation of the World War II battleship Yamato A robotic, giant chess set that can replay historical matches or take on an opponent A three-level, remote-controlled Jawa Sandcrawler, complete with moving conveyor belt

Whether you’re a card-carrying LEGO fanatic or just thinking fondly about that dusty box of LEGO in storage, The Cult of LEGOwill inspire you to take out your bricks and build something amazing.

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And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From The Cult of Lego by John Baichtal and Joe Meno:

1. The first products out of the Lego factory weren’t little connectable bricks at all, but wooden toys – the most famous being a pull-along wooden duck.

2. Lego has been around for so long that its original patents have expired, which is why in recent years multiple products bearing the “Lego-compatible” mark have popped up around the place.

3.   The best selling of Lego’s products to date has been the Mindstorms robotics system.

4. Lego has been used to great effect in Autism therapy programs, as well as in corporate settings to encourage creative problem solving.

5. In accordance with Lego’s tagline, “build your dreams”, clever folk around the world have built everything from functioning ATM and vending machines to prosthetic limbs out of Lego…although my personal favourite creation is the working, floating bug killing device designed by two pioneering Kiwis (the people, not the birds) to overcome the problem of having an uncomfortable number of water insects inhabiting the family pool.

When I checked this one out of the library I expected that it would be the kind of book that I would idly flick through during points of boredom, but I actually ended up reading it cover to cover.  This was no mean feat given that the book is a hefty, coffee-table sized tome, but I like to think that holding it up for long periods counted as exercise.  Beginning at the beginning, the book takes a look at the fascinating history of the toy company that would eventually become the home of the ubiquitous and iconic Lego brick.  The company’s commitment to quality, amongst other things, is clearly one of the reasons why Lego has been around for so long, and has made such an impact on popular culture.

From Lego’s early incarnations, the book moves on to explore the extensive world of AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego, to the uninitiated) and the “cult” that has built up around the humble toy brick.  You may not be aware of this, but adult Lego fans are everywhere, with their own webcomics, literature, conventions, language, online forums and competitions and if you ever wanted to be part of a hardcore hobbyist community based around a children’s toy, Lego could certainly provide your entry ticket into such a world.  As well as the world of competitive building by adult Lego fans, the book takes a look at Lego as art, Lego as architecture and the ways in which adult builders have taken Lego to whole new levels that could not have been imagined by the company’s founders.   No book on Lego could be complete without a close look at the Minifig phenomenon, and these little guys play a big role in the cult of Lego, influencing everything from the scale of creations to the builders’ choice of avatar in the online and business worlds.

There is a section of the book devoted to Lego and robotics and this was a whole new world for me as I have never particularly dabbled in the Technic sets, let alone the Mindstorms system, which allows users to program robots for all sorts of purposes, from the aforementioned vending machines, to robots designed to solve Rubik’s Cubes.

The point of difference for this book is that it takes a focused look at how a simple interconnected building toy has made such an incredible impact on wider society.  At the same time, it uncovers the vast and complex subculture of adult fans of Lego and the many ways in which the brick has evolved beyond “toy” status, in the hands of grown ups with innovative ambitions.  If you are a fan of Lego, and indeed of social history, I can recommend this book as one to lose yourself in.

In a nod to those adult builders, below is a little selection of photos from the Brisbricks (that’s the Brisbane Lego Fan User Group) display that Mad Martha visited in June of 2016 at Strathpine:

Kudos to the builders that came up with squirrel herding and chickens escaping from KFC!

Until next time,

Bruce

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4 thoughts on “The Cult of Lego: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review

  1. LEGO is one of those things that I loved – but this was in the days of simple bricks, and slide-in windows plus a cardboard roof. Making machines was in the future – as I discovered when my eight-year-old niece request parts on her Christmas list – parts that belonged to a techno kit for fifteen year olds. Then seeing huge sculptures made from it when I took a friend to an exhibition in a London art gallery – that was mind-blowing.
    Maybe one day I’ll be young enough to find time to play with it again – and buy a whole new house to store the bits in! Meanwhile, maybe I’ll just immerse myself in this book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was really surprised (although I probably shouldn’t have been) that you can actually order specific, individual parts. Also, that you can design your own models on a special LEGO computer program, and then pay money to have the pieces for your custom model sent to you! Amazing!

      Liked by 1 person

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