The Cult of LEGO is a must-have book for every LEGO fan [Review]

With books about LEGO starting to fill up the shelves in one’s hobby room, how does the discerning LEGO reader choose which books to buy and read? John Baichtal and Joe Meno’s The Cult of LEGO is an easy choice for inclusion in your LEGO library.

When the book arrived from No Starch Press back in October (yes, I’m that backlogged), I was pleasantly surprised at how hefty it was — an unexpected contrast to the paperback Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide. For a book featuring hundreds of LEGO photos, I’m glad they released a hardback book with full-color, glossy printing.

John & Joe provide a solid overview of the LEGO hobby, from Bionicle and Technic to SYSTEM and Mindstorms, with sections dedicated to ApocaLEGO (including an appearance by Zombie Apocafest 2008), Steampunk, LEGO graffiti, and more. You’ll see a lot of the iconic LEGO creations that made the rounds of the ‘net a few years back — Henry Lim’s MC Escher LEGO, Sean Kenney’s Yankee Stadium, big LEGO battleships, the “No Real Than You Are” minifig, Hannes Tscharmer’s Jawa sandcrawler, and more.

As long-time LEGO fans and readers of this blog might infer themselves, the lists in that last paragraph support the justified critiques Nannan had about the book in his own mini-review.

Many of the featured models are the ones that merely happened to go viral on the web, not necessarily what we might consider “the best” of a particular genre. And with the exception of the sandcrawler (posted this past June, just a few months before the book’s release), nearly all of the LEGO creations in the book date to 2009 or earlier.

It’s also odd to see Brickshelf and LUGNET featured as two of the primary websites under “LEGO on the Web.” Yes, Brickshelf and LUGNET. In 2011. (And yes, TBB does make the list under “LEGO Fan Resources” later in the book.)

The Cult of LEGOBut I’m willing to forgive all these flaws in the face of lead times for printed books and the daunting task of making a niche subject like ours much more widely appealing. It was really lovely to see The Cult of LEGO on the Seattle Times’ front-page banner and included in Powell’s Books Black Friday deals as I shopped in Portland after Thanksgiving with my mom.

And for me, it’s those local, personal connections to the book that make it a must-have — seeing pictures from BrickCon, reading profiles of my friends, and thinking back to fun times with Lewis & Clark on the Pacific Coast (the late, great Mr. Pugsly even makes an appearance).

Despite all the pretty photos, John & Joe manage to weave a thread of humanity throughout The Cult of LEGO, so that in reading it you can step into this tight-knit yet simultaneously open-armed world of builders and bloggers, brick artists and LEGO engineers.

Whether you’re a casual LEGO fan or a hardcore builder, The Cult of LEGO has a lot to offer. The book isn’t so much about the unattributed pictures of viral LEGO models you’ve been sent a hundred times by relatives and coworkers as it is the diversity of real people and the community behind them.

My verdict: Find room on your LEGO shelf for The Cult of LEGO.

8 comments on “The Cult of LEGO is a must-have book for every LEGO fan [Review]

  1. Chris

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s a fantastic book that captures a lot more of the “real” AFOL mentality and community than most other mainstream portrayals of AFOLs.

  2. JaneyRedBrick

    I normally enjoy the commentary here on TBB, but today, not so much. I think the comment “It’s also odd to see Brickshelf and LUGNET featured as two of the primary websites under LEGO on the Web. Yes, Brickshelf and LUGNET. In 2011” is harsh and a tad short sighted.

    While I understand they may not be your choice of reference or entertainment, they both, by far have value and certain benefits that shouldnt be discredited.

    As a parent, LEGO teacher and an employee at a LEGO toy store, I would love to send KIDS to flickr and youtube (or insert hip choice here) for inspirational LEGO ideas or encourage them to start uploading their own to share. I do NOT do this due to the fact that comments can be totally inappropriate for them to read. However, on a daily basis I still send children to Brickshelf because I do not have to worry about rude, mean spirited or disgusting remarks.

    As for LUGnet, it was never just a forum, and yes, while it falls short from its glory years, LUGnet is (not was) so much more. Its was AFOL history in the making. Its a huge historic database of accurate and well structured information (that actually is in proper sentences) that is worth its weight in gold. Not just LEGO information but the entire development of AFOL communication and community, not to mention the set and reference databases that are still very useful.

    Your photo albums from 15 years arent current, but it doesnt mean they have no value.

    Just my two cents.


  3. gambort

    Janey> I’m certain Andrew didn’t mean it in that way. While LUGNET and Brickshelf are great resources, mostly historic for the former, they certainly don’t represent the peak of community activity as it is played out today. Not even close. If the book (about AFOL activity) implies that they are then the book is wrong.

    Now if he’d singled out RTL and Auczilla I’d be fighting the good fight with you.

  4. matija

    Still waiting for mine from Amazon. I’ve ordered it more than a month ago, and it still haven’t arrived. That’s some kind of inverse speed record. I have high expectations on the book, and the small flaws are here I guess because the book was long in the development which is only natural. :)

    Two thumbs up for the authors from me! I will be sure to add a nifty review over at Amazon too once I got it.

  5. bruce n h

    Just to add my two cents on this.

    Janey, I certainly see your point about preferring to point younger kids and their parents to Brickshelf rather than Flickr. Also, Lugnet remains an important archive of the community. That said, I think (and he can certainly speak for himself) that Andrew’s critique is one I shared (and, yes, I am even further behind on getting a book review out than Andrew is). For a book that seeks to be a comprehensive view of the LEGO community, there is, IMO, a huge hole in covering the online community. For many (most?) of us, our main interaction is not at the big conventions, but is rather through forums, Flickr, blogs, etc. It just seems there is very little mention of this, and to only point to the largely defunct Lugnet is very misleading. Its obvious that there’s no way to comprehensively address all of the various forums and blogs etc, but at the very least there could have been a paragraph about how r.t.l. led to lugnet led to the spinoff of various theme-specific and nation/language-specific forums, the rise of blogs, and the variety of image-hosting opportunities.

    I have a lot of other thoughts on the book, both positive and negative, but I’ll let those sit until I get my own review written (coming soon to a __Bricks blog near you). The thumbnail is this – the strengths of the Cult of LEGO were the weaknesses of LEGO: a Love Story, and the strengths of LEGO: a Love Story were the weaknesses of the Cult of LEGO.


  6. Andrew Post author

    @Janey: That’s fair feedback, and I take it to heart — perhaps I could have worded that differently (though I’ll stay on the record with what I said and not edit it at this point). However, Tim & Bruce inferred my intent correctly, and I think it’s a valid criticism for a book published in 2011.

    Brickshelf and LUGNET truly are no longer the center of gravity in the AFOL universe, whether we like it or not. Personally, LUGNET is what first tipped me off to the existence of other AFOLs more than 10 years ago, and until the whole shutdown fiasco a few years back, I couldn’t imagine LEGO fandom without Brickshelf. They’re absolutely critical historical resources, and I’d fight to keep them both “alive” for as long as the fan community can support them.

    But there’s no denying the process that Bruce described. Even though FBTB, C-C, C-S, and TBB probably wouldn’t exist to begin with had it not been for Brickshelf and LUGNET, the *vast* majority of the AFOL community frequents these spin-offs (now pretty much part of the Old Guard themselves, at this point), not their progenitors.

    My criticism of this page in the book was directed at how the authors positioned Brickshelf and LUGNET as primary centers of the AFOL universe. To be self-critical for a moment, I could certainly have chosen my words differently so as not to seem seem dismissive toward these community resources. That wasn’t the intent at all; I was indeed being a bit snide, but the tone was directed more toward the authors for apparent cluelessness of the current AFOL landscape on the web. ;-) I stand behind the critique itself, as I do my perception of what AFOL fandom looks like today.

  7. JaneyRedBrick

    Thanks Tim and Bruce… I wasnt sure about the intent. Glad to see you were right. Andrew, thank you for the reply, I’m glad to know that the “old school” still has a place in your heart and I now understand and also agree with the point you were making.

  8. Andrew Post author

    @Janey: Glad we got that cleared up. Thanks for coming back to read the clarification of my intent. :-)

    @Bruce: I’m intrigued by the contrast you’re making with Jonathan Bender’s book. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts in more depth.

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