Two members offer their thoughts on ‘The Lego Story’

I must admit that I very rarely get time to read an actual book, but when the opportunity arose to review a book about LEGO, how could I resist?
In a little over 400 pages, Jens Andersen, an award-winning Danish author and literary critic with a PhD in Nordic literature, writes about the origins and cultural history of LEGO and the biographical chronicle of the Kirk Kristiansen family. Published in 2001, and translated into English, this book takes us all the way back to 1915 when Ole Kirk Christiansen first heard about a woodworker’s workshop for sale in the provincial town of Billund, a town with only thirty buildings and 100 inhabitants at that time.

From there it takes us on a 106 year journey that covers the origins, growth and development of the LEGO company, and five generations of the family including the grandchildren of Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. The book isn’t really about the LEGO brick itself, or the detailed processes or manufacturing of LEGO bricks and sets themselves. You won’t find much in the way of extensive detail about specific themes or products or the processes of how the bricks or figures are manufactured, though the key developments are touched upon. The book is more about the culture, ideas and philosophy of LEGO, and how it all developed through the generations.

The story develops from access to LEGO’s own archives, and extensive conversations with Kjeld over 18 months, as well as many never-before-seen photos from the family’s private archives. In fact, the narrative is frequently punctuated with these photos and diagrams, and memories and accounts directly from Kjeld himself.The book is divided up into chapters that each cover a decade in LEGO history, and in fact it is over 200 pages in before you arrive in the 70’s or 80’s, where many AFOL’s would typically start to draw comparisons with the majority of their own existing knowledge of the company. You will hear about how the company grew, took risks, made profit, and also often faced bankruptcy in the early decades. You will discover how Ole Kirk, Godtfred, and then Kjeld shaped the company and their philosophy and culture of how they wanted LEGO to grow and develop. It also gives you insights into the people that worked with them and for them, and the development over the years of Billund itself, as the company grew. It then continues in the latter chapters of the book as Kjeld takes a step back from day-to-day operations and focuses on the legacy and charitable foundations that were established and the preparations for Kjeld’s son Thomas to take over the business.

I enjoyed this book. As an AFOL, I found there were lots of things I didn’t know before, and felt I gained a greater insight into how it all began. I was taken on a journey through success and failure, and as I turned the pages, I found myself saying out loud, “Again!?” as yet another fire took its effects in the early decades. I would recommend this book and feel it is a worthwhile read to anyone interested in LEGO, either to purchase yourself or to receive as a gift.

By Adam Brine

When I was coming out of my LEGO dark age in my early 20’s, I read one of the early books that was written about LEGO and how it had
developed, which was published in 2001.  That told me the now-famous story of the origins of the company from its beginnings in the woodworking of Ole Kirk Christiansen.  20 years later, I was very excited to read what is described as a biography of the family owners of the company.

Across 400 pages, author Jens Andersen writes about 5 generations of the family, starting from the very early days of Ole Kirk at the beginning of the 20thcentury right into the future generations of grandchildren of the current operating owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, who is referred as Kjeld throughout.  The author appears to be a well-regarded Danish biographer, and he has clearly written and interviewed people in their home language, which has been helpfully translated for us into English.  This is a researched conversation with Kjeld about his grandfather and father and then about his own vision for the company, which takes up about 40% of the book.  Ole Kirk, Godtfred (GKC) and then Kjeld are each examined from what is known about their early childhoods right through into their later years, considering their backgrounds, their value systems and their work ethics – which for all of them appear to have been extremely industrious.  Their relationships with their families – siblings, spouses and children – and with the remote town of Billund that became a hub for a global industry – are considered in some detail.

This is not really a book about the LEGO brick itself or about the big themes that have come about through it.  Even some of the legends from the early days e.g. GKC painting the ducks with only 2 coats of paint to save money, and the naming of the company, are only given short space of words.  This is much more about the people behind the ideas behind the brick, and the wooden tools and toys before that.  In Kjeld’s time, it focuses a lot on how he approached the global management of the company, including an examination of how his approach nearly took the company into bankruptcy.

There are some good reflections from Kjeld as he remembers aspects of his father and grandfather, and there are some really nice photos that are said to come from the family collections including weddings and family events.  From a human perspective, it is extremely interesting to see how the brand itself has developed.  Each decade is given a chapter to review the big events for the company from its very humble beginnings right through to the prospective takeover by Kjeld’s son Thomas in 2023.

The end of the book also considers the charitable foundations that they have set up.  That alone tells you about the scale of the family fortune that has developed in the past 90 years, and so for those who have an interest in this side of the hobby, it is a really good book to read during the anniversary celebrations.

By Bobby Martin