Original blog post of this recommendation available here.
You may be wondering what a Greatest Living Author reads when he’s not writing. Well, how about the illustrated guide to just about everything?
Now, as a (Greatest Living) Author, you may recall my ongoing source of consternation regarding my series of recommendations:
Whoomp, as they say — or did, back in the halcyon days of circa 1993 — there it is.
Keeping with the spirit of said realisation, here’s another book recommendation. This is, to the best of my recollection, the first time I’ve ever recommended a non-fiction series.
But this is definitely one worth recommending.
The Eyewitness books are essentially the illustrated guide to everything. The series has entries on, for example: most of the major world religions, religion and mythology in general, various periods of world history, most kinds of animals, geology, geography and culture, and science and technology.
It’s a pretty thorough mix of STEM and the Liberal Arts and if you can think of a topic, there’s probably an EyewitnessBook about it.
Incidentally, there’s also the Star Wars Visual Dictionary series (apparently now available in a single combined edition covering the entire saga), which is the same principle of the Eyewitness Books applied to Star Wars. They’re not actually part of the Eyewitness series, though they’re put out by the same publisher and functionally, like I said, use the same design and approach.
As I kid, I’m pretty sure I checked out every last Eyewitness book from either my school or local library. Except, of course, the ones about bugs. Because bugs are gross. And the one about mummies, because mummies scared the heck out of me.
No, seriously, my family trip to the Egypt Wing of the Royal Ontario Museum circa 1998 literally gave me nightmares thanks to the mummy (named, as it happens, Djedmaatesankh) who is the centrepiece of the gallery.
Now that I’m older and wiser, mostly, mummies give me a sense of “Man, I’d sure hate to have my afterlife interrupted by being dug up, put in a glass box, and gawked at by tourists for all eternity”…
Incidentally, the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies also gave me nightmares as a kid, but again, due to a combination of being older and wiser and the creature effects of the movies being twenty years out of date and looking obviously fake at this point in history, they are now among my favourite movies ever. They are an utterly prefect combination of unironic and the best kind of cinematic stupid.
And, honestly, even the Tom Cruise Mummy has the odd flashes of brilliance during an otherwise pretty forgettable experience.
The Eyewitness books each contain a not-insubstantial amount of content: each book I looked at for an example had exactly 72 pages — but it’s a big series, so I can’t say for certain if that’s an absolute rule. Now, that might seem daunting for a young reading, but most of those pages are filled with pictures, and some of those pages are only pictures.
And that’s the biggest strength of the series.
While the books have enough information in writing to teach kids something, the fact that everything is there for them to actually see is going to do most of the teaching. With the Eyewitness books, kids can see what a Roman legionnaire actually looks like, what a viking actually looks like, what the stages of a butterfly’s metamorphosis actually looks like, what a great white shark actually looks like when it’s biting into a chunk of bait — which incidentally, was my favourite part of the Sharks book.
Now, speaking of things that could give kids nightmares…
And, well, anyway, here’s a whale shark instead.
Even if a kid isn’t really interested in this kind of dry, informative non-fiction or isn’t a strong reader, I think most kids will be impressed by the sheer volume of visual information present in the series.
If nothing else, it also means that the Eyewitness series is filled with very pretty books.
Copyright 2021 J.B. Norman. Revised and updated 2023.
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