In America, as in most cultures, you risk offending people if you call them dumb or an idiot to their faces. You also risk a punch in the nose.
And yet by the millions, people are buying books with titles like Wine for Dummies and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motorcycles. When we don't know a thing about meditation or buying stocks or speaking Bulgarian, we're happy to be insulted. Go right ahead: call us dummies on the cover of your book. Just show us how to lay tile or knit a sweater.
And for 17 years, that's exactly what a seemingly endless stream of books, written in a breezy manner with lots of illustrations and simple instructions, has done.
Want a tattoo? There's The Complete Idiot's Guide to getting one. A yappy little dog? Chihuahuas for Dummies will tell you all there is to know about them. There's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Webkinz, whatever that is. And Chronic Pain for Dummies, leaving us to wonder where smart people go to deal with pain.
More than 125 million copies in the Dummies series alone have sold since the first Dummies book — about a computer program called DOS — was published in 1991.
Ever since, Dummies and Idiots books have promised to teach us how to garden, learn religions, paint walls, even raise our kids.
Dummies books have been translated into 39 languages and published in 40 countries, so all the idiots are no longer in America. There are now dummies videos, too.
You name it — chess, vampires, foreclosed houses — there's a Dummies or Idiots book about it. There's even one called Biochemistry for Dummies. But no Idiot's Guide to Brain Surgery . . . yet!