Books Are For Idiots (some at least)

In a previous job, at which this writer was employed at for five months that felt like a billion years, one of the people responsible for the Dummies series came into my office with the owner of the company and said hello. No idea what his name was, but he was a higher-up from the publisher. Maybe the guy who started the series. And no idea what he was doing there. But this writer got to say, “Hey, I met the guy who started that Dummies series!” for as long as he could before the novelty wore off (approx. 12 minutes). Why is this important? Because it provides a nice segue into this article by J.D. Biersdorfer, “Manuals for Dummies.” Personally, we’re not the biggest fan. But it is not up for us to say. It is up for us to provide pointless segues.

Hitting the shelves in 1991, DOS For Dummies was the granddaddy of the User-Friendly User Manual. With conversational chunks of text peppered with cartoons, friendly icons and jaunty typefaces, this ur-Dummies title proved that non-nerds could cuddle up with a technical tome. The series, from Wiley Publishing, now boasts 125 million books (on a gajillion topics) in print, so it’s safe to say somebody out there finds the Dummies pretty darn smart.

This combination of elements gently eases the reader into the technical information. It’s sort of like how people, intimidated by the columns and columns of type in The New Yorker, feel secure knowing there’s a cynically whimsical Roz Chast cartoon to rest upon during the long eyeball march through an intense 10-page burst of short fiction.