Today’s open thread is devoted to DK, formerly known as Dorling Kindersley. DK is a publisher of travel guides, how-to manuals, and general reference books on almost every subject imaginable. Dorling Kindersley began in the UK as a book-packaging company before venturing into publishing books of their own. Their first book was a first-aid manual for the British voluntary medical service. In 1999, they went bankrupt after overestimating the market for books about Star Wars: Episode I: the Phantom Menace, and were purchased by Penguin Books, today Penguin Random House. Today they still publish books in over 60 languages on topics as varied as world history, knitting, traveling to Italy, and Lego.
As a child I spent many a lunch break, school library visit, or rainy-day recess period poring over any of these I could get my hands on. It was how I discovered everything from the histories of all of Spider-Man’s villains, to different types of martial arts from around the world, to how castles were built, to (thanks to a friend’s parents leaving it out in their bathroom by accident) the first depiction of two people having sex I ever saw. Their books are perfect if, like me, you love to cultivate a broad but cursory knowledge base, or if you own a coffee table and often entertain people who would like to do so. They feature a distinctive visual aesthetic consisting of brief but informative overviews combined with lots of diagrams, illustrations, sidebars, and cross-sections, usually on a bright, glossy white background that I find extremely comforting. Here is an illustrative example: the page from the most recent edition of the DK Ultimate Visual Dictionary about the planet Saturn.