For Dummies is Not Just For Dummies
July 08, 2013
Okay, we have all seen them on the shelves. Those black and yellow books, which remind me of school buses, that appear in virtually every section of the library. The For Dummies series is touted as “A Reference for the rest of us.” and it can cover everything from computers to European History. There are even books written about popular authors and series like Shakespeare and C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Basically, it seems as if there is absolutely no subject that you can’t find a Dummies book about. But are these books worth your time?
I admit that for quite a long while the Dummies books annoyed me. First of all, I thought that there were simply too many of them. There is such a thing as beating a concept to death and I really felt that the books had quickly become clichés. My first introduction to the Dummies series was when I was initially connected to the Internet at home and my mother bought me The Internet For Dummies. While the book was helpful as a reference source, I really felt that these books were probably only useful for such things at computers and technology. I just couldn’t believe that they could do a good job for other subjects, like history or literature.
However, I have now read some Dummies books exploring just those topics and have since changed my mind. I recently finished a book about the world of The Lord of the Ring and, as a great fan of Tolkien, the book helped to sort out some of the characters and themes that are found in his incredibly dense works. It was especially helpful in regards to the goings on in The Silmarillion. Just keeping the names straight in that book is a real challenge, and the way that Dummies laid out the chronology and characters helped me to understand the complicated events much better.
I also did a little exploring in European History with the help of a Dummies book. While it may seem inconceivable that a book of just over 300 pages could possibly cover enough of European History to be worth anything, it actually did a great job of introducing a lot of events that I had either never heard of or knew little about. It also helped that it was written with a lot of humor and didn’t feel like a dry recitation of names and dates (that can kill a good history book immediately). While it was far from an exhaustive and in-depth look at everything that has gone on over the millennia, it was a great way of getting your feet wet. It helped pique my interest in several topics that I might not have discovered had I not read that book.
This is what I have finally realized about the For Dummies series. The books are not meant to be the only source of information regarding a topic, but a way of introducing concepts and ideas that you may find interesting and decide to explore further in other material. I have also found that these books can be very entertaining if they are written in the right way. Most of the books have different authors and as a result their tone and style can vary greatly. Some present the information in a very academic way, while others take the route of a more conversational and relaxed tone. And obviously the subject being discussed can dictate the feel, as well.
In the end, I have learned that it was wrong to dismiss this series out of hand. The For Dummies books can be a great reference source, even if they should probably not be the primary reference. They are great to use if you have ever wondered if you might be interested in a topic and want to find just a little bit more about it before you decide to explore it further. They also have a great way of bringing together a lot of information in a very organized manner, so that you can easily locate something specific. So if you have ever wanted to know a little about Shakespeare’s plays before you actually read them, or you need a little reminder about how Microsoft Word operates, those School Bus books might just be worth a little of your time. For Dummies is not just for dummies after all.