Insulting publications continue to thrive

Brain Surgery for Dummies
© Conrad Weisert, Information Disciplines, Inc., March, 2006

This article may be circulated freely as long as the copyright notice is included.

Looking back and looking ahead

The review at right is from the summer, 1994, IDI Newsletter, the predecessor of this web site. In the dozen years since its publication, we've seen:

  • Enormous success for the DUMMIES series, not only in computer topics but also in a huge range of general-interest topics. A recent Internet search turned up:
    • Investing for Dummies
    • Catholicism for Dummies
    • Wine for Dummies
    • Diabetes for Dummies
    Would you display one of those titles on your coffee table?
    Would you hand one to your host as a housewarming gift?

  • Withering of the competing Complete Idiots and Non-Nerds series. (My colleague, Joe O'Brien, points out that one of our favorite titles, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting into College, is still available.)
  • Increasing frequency of demeaning terms in information technology books and trade journals.

It's clear that our advice not to buy these books was not widely heeded. The DUMMIES series is a huge success and seems likely to stay popular. But don't expect me to buy or recommend any of them.

Book review . . . . by Conrad Weisert (1994)

More choices for dummies,
complete idiots, and non-nerds

Big profits in insulting readers and professionals

I'm dismayed by the explosion of titles in these series and puzzled by their stunning success in the market. Starting with DOS for Dummies the DUMMY series now covers the full range of popular software products, and the two copycat series are tagging along.

The intended audience for these books are people who have to use these products but who lack a background in computer technology. That's fine, and there have been a number of excellent books addressed to that audience. Many of them have words like "'beginners" or "non-technical users" in their titles. I find it incomprehensible, however, that one would choose to buy a book, either for oneself or as a gift, that went out of its way to insult and demean the reader.

Most offensive is the term "non-nerds". The authors and the publisher, by implying that most people who can readily understand this material are nerds, insult not their own audience but the whole body of working professionals. "Nerd", in any context an extremely disparaging term, also appears in the content of some other series.

Let's send a message to these publishers by not buying or recommending their books, even if the content looks good. Many equally good or superior choices are available from authors and publishers who don't insult their audience or the profession.

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Last modified March 14, 2006