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Usborne books

Bags me the nuclear powered artificial heart!From the 1970s onward, Peter Usborne’s children’s factual publishing empire was the Oxford University Press for the pre-secondary set. Their colourful info-packed tomes, liberally sprinkled with friendly, big-nosed cartoon characters, were the darlings of the school library (when The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was on loan, at least). The Usborne Book of Things to do on a Rainy Day was a self-explanatory favourite. Two friendly, big-nosed cartoon clowns guided the indoor-bound reader through a plethora of homely activities: growing washing soda crystals, making paper hats, etc. The friendly, big-nosed, overcoated spies dotted throughout the Usborne Spy’s Guidebook inhabited an exciting world where unbreakable codes could be written on a belt wrapped round an old stick, and oppressive Eastern Bloc governments thwarted with the cunning deployment of lemon juice as writing medium. More heavyweight was the Usborne Book of World Geography, a comprehensive guide to the friendly, big-nosed peoples of the Earth, full of inoffensively rendered world facts. For instance, comparative gross national product was indicated by figures in national dress holding appropriately scaled money bags: while a sheikh from the United Arab Emirates rejoiced in his ten-foot sack, a peasant representing Bhutan put a bravely cheery face on his golf ball-sized pouch. Best of all, however, was 1979’s Usborne Book of The Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond: a mind boggling grab-bag of never-going-to-happen wonders like lunar Olympics, nuclear-powered artificial super-hearts, domed underwater cities, and Jupiter being taken apart and rebuilt as a big shell around the sun, for some unfathomable reason. Its timeline of inventions from 1980 to the twenty-second century has, twenty-five years in, so far proved to be something of a disappointment to the legion of thirtysomethings still awaiting that robot butler.



  1. Andy Elms

    October 28, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    We had several, Computers, How things are Made (inclduing final chapter, How this book is made), and the legendary Machine Code for Beginners. None more eighties.

    Although I seem to recall rotund stick figures rather than big noses, but never mind.

  2. Adz

    November 6, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Damn! Another unlooked-for treasure consigned to a jumble sale years ago!

    The history book was pretty good as well

  3. Paul Gatenby

    November 6, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    The Usborne books of Ghosts and Vampires were beautifully illustrated. Nobody who read them can forget Geoff the Talking Mongoose from the Isle of Man, the oriental vampire that sat on it’s tomb and chewed its shroud and the man-eating Japanese Kappa river spirit, half-monkey, half-tortoise!

  4. Richard Davies

    June 7, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I remember my school library had loads of Usborne books, many with 8-bit computer listings at the back.

    Me & my brother had many at home as well, I’ve still got some but a few went in a charity bag.

    I found a combined Ghosts Monster & UFOs volume on e-bay a couple of years ago.

  5. doris

    September 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Here is a link to the book of the future in PDF-{30e2395aaf6397fd02d2c79d91a1fe7cbb73158454674890018aee9c53a0cb96}20Usborne{30e2395aaf6397fd02d2c79d91a1fe7cbb73158454674890018aee9c53a0cb96}20Book{30e2395aaf6397fd02d2c79d91a1fe7cbb73158454674890018aee9c53a0cb96}20of{30e2395aaf6397fd02d2c79d91a1fe7cbb73158454674890018aee9c53a0cb96}20the{30e2395aaf6397fd02d2c79d91a1fe7cbb73158454674890018aee9c53a0cb96}20Future.pdf

    I looked the book up on Amazon yesterday and was delighted to find Dave Jefferis, who co-wrote the book with Kenneth Gatland, lurking on the books page.

    I told him I finally own a ‘risto’.

  6. Scott McPhee

    April 6, 2015 at 8:43 am

    My primary school library had many of the Usborne books.

    I remember borrowing Book of the Future around 1984 – 85. Thirty years later, the predictions about technological advancements are very fanciful.

    Regarding the robot butlers. I think it was forecast that in the 21st century, people would work less.

  7. David Jefferis

    July 20, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Don’t know that we were particularly ‘right wing’ – we saw ourselves more as crazy liberal intellectuals!

    I still stick by the prediction of a super-race by 2100, in the sense of advanced bio-machine interface technology, increased longevity, and reduced mortality.

    Robot butler? I’ve pretty well got one in the form of my iPhone, which acts as a *sorta* second brain for stuff I either cannot or don’t want to bother storing between my ears.

  8. Droogie

    June 13, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    One of my most beloved books as a kid was a bumper Usborne volume that combined The Spies and The Detectives Handbook. Pages of fun on how to disguise yourself or how to spot the criminal in a police line-up .Back then the 3 professions I most wanted to be when I grew up were spy, private detective or reporter. Looking back I think I only wanted a job where I could dress up in a raincoat and a fedora.

  9. richardpd

    June 13, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    I still have my Spy & Detective hand books.

    There are quite interesting to read because some technology has moved on, especially the pre-computer method of forging bank notes.

    I remember the future ones had a lot of 1970s haircuts and fashions making them look like a Logan’s Run style Sci-Fi film. They did at least feature a flat screen TV mounted on a wall & the Dick Tracy style watch phone with the same abilities as a mid 1990s mobile phone.

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