Book of the Month
DK Ultimate Visual Dictionary 2000


Publisher: DK Publishing
Authors: -
$47.95

ISBN 0-7894-4619-7

All levels


According to another old-fashioned print dictionary (Webster's) the meaning of 'ultimate' is 'the last, 'something final which brings to an end' and 'incapable of further analysis'. So either DK chose a silly name for their dictionary without knowing the meaning of 'ultimate' or they chose the name knowing it was wrong. Neither option says much for the company's respect for the language it is supposed to be describing. Language always changes. New words come into being and old words drop out of use. No dictionary can call itself the 'ultimate' and by way of further contradiction DK have recently come up with an 'updated' version of the book, which again gives the lie to 'ultimate'. The title is all the more unfortunate, because the rest of the book is an excellent example of what DK does best - gloriously illustrated pictures and cutaways that make the book a pleasure and an education to browse through.

This is not a light book, and in this day and age one cannot help thinking that several kilograms of paper might be better replaced as an 'app' on something like the iPad. To say that this book has 640 pages does not do justice to the weight, as each page is of excellent quality (and therefore heavy) paper. The company takes the visual aspect of the dictionary very seriously. There are some 6,000 illustrations inside, all beautifully clear and a pleasure to examine. The book starts with a set of some 50 silver pages dealing with technological issues which have been on the news - things such as the Hubble telescope and the el Nino ocean currents. Why these pages are silver and why they are separate, the book does not say, though the back cover calls this a'special updated section' which raises the question of how up-to-date the rest of the content is. The remainder of the book has a proper two-page introduction explaining how it should be used, and sections which basically go from nature 'The Universe' 'The Human Body' through to technology 'Rail and Road', 'Architecture' and so on. Immense detail and superb pictures make each topic completely clear, even to those who know almost nothing about the item in question. Again however, one cannot help feeling that computer technology might overtake this book, as a computerized edition could show - for example - an animation showing a combustion engine in action.

For the language student who might need to know the vocabulary for anything from the composition of stem cells to the design of an early aeroplane, this book will be very useful. There are two ways it can be used to learn. One is if the student needs to master a particular vocabulary set in a hurry - for example the parts of a car. In that case, pages 339 to 358 have everything from engine parts to the body of an old model-T Ford. The other way to use the book is simply to browse through and look at what ever appeals to you at the time. With either technique the book provides a great learning experience. It's just a pity about the title.

Verdict: Soon there will be an app for that.
Assessment 7/10 (with one point deducted because of the title)
 
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