Book Review: The Cult Of LEGO

As a parent, I'm more guilty than most of forcing the toys and activities of my childhood onto my daughter. As a daughter, she has shown a remarkable degree of resistance. She has grown up in a different world than I did, surrounded by electronic stimulation I only dreamt of, and since she's only six she has no appreciation of the retro-coolness of Slinkies or Operation. To complicate matters, she has embraced the aspects of girliness a marketer could hope for: princesses, makeup, cute fuzzy animals, blah blah blah. And I'm not exactly the person I was when I was that age either; my patience for the games and toys she likes to play with is tested daily by my own roaming attention.

But there's one thing we both agree upon. LEGOs.

LEGOs are the perfect toy. Colorful, sturdy, infinitely creative, and utterly immersive. She and I spend hours recreating everything in the instructions and on the box, then exploring every permutation of houses, cars, and living things we can imagine. When dinner is called, I'm just as likely to be the one who calls, "in a second!" as she is.

We are members of the Cult of LEGO. And we are not alone.

Nowhere is this more clear than in a new book, the aptly titled The Cult Of LEGO (John Baichtal and Joe Meno), which explores the myriad ways in which LEGO has permeated our culture and become an obsession for brick lovers around the globe. Packed with articles, interviews, and images of some of the most eye-opening uses for LEGOs you've ever seen, it's at once both a fascinating exploration of how a simple little brick, properly assembled, can offer endless possibilities, and a testament to the diversity and ingenuity of the human imagination.

Throughout the book you meet people who were just playing around with parts and suddenly started building. There's the usual suspects: cinematic recreations of Sandcrawlers, replicas of the Acropolis, and a 25 foot tall statue of Sitting Bull, all built from those familiar bricks. There's a fully functional LEGO roller coaster and a diorama of a "Zombie Apocafest." There are eerily realistic BIONICLE creations which evoke a biomechanical theme (think insect-like creatures that would make H.R. Giger take notice), and primitive but iconic examples like the hard drive enclosure Sergei Brin and Larry Page built from MEGA Bloks in 1996 for their first server. Each of these is accompanied by the personal story behind the effort, highlighting the passions of the designers and the communities that have sprung up around them.

It's these vignettes that make this more than just a paperweight on your coffee table. You get to meet the creators of brick flicks, who use stop-motion LEGO people and environments to tell stories (you can see some at Bricks in Motion and BrickFilms). You learn about Micropolis, an open-ended, collaborative micro project dedicated to building an infinitely expandable city built from independently created components and assembled when the builders' group meets. Then there's the unconventional ways LEGO bricks are used, from industrial prototyping to autism therapy. It really makes you appreciate what we're capable of when given the building blocks (literally) for creative exploration.

As The Cult Of LEGO says, LEGOs are more than just a toy; they are a way of life. They are an instantly accessible medium for artistic expression. Like us they are strong but malleable, easily adapted to our whims and held together with a satisfying "click". But most of all they are a celebration of togetherness, whether standing on ladders constructing the Empire State Building (assisted by LEGO cranes) or stooping over our kitchen tables with our children, rummaging through a pile of bricks for that perfect piece to complete the horse you made together. And isn't that what playing--whether you're young or old--is all about?

Now if you don't mind there's a pink house with a missing roof on the bedroom floor that requires my attention.

John Baichtal and Joe Meno's The Cult Of LEGO is available now.

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