Book Review – All the Knots You Need (By: R.S. Lee)

All the Knots You Need is a 1999 book by R.S. Lee about, surprisingly enough, knots. It is a fairly short and heavily illustrated guide to the knots most people would need in their “day to day” lives (quotes because I rarely need knots and I probably will only need a bowline and a square knot in my life) and it took me way longer to finish than it should have. But that’s not the point here; “did it teach me how to tie knots?” is the point.


The book has around 60 knots that it shows you how to tie, give or take 10 for similarities, like the knots being “the same” but in slightly different configurations, and how you want to count them as “individual knots”. Each one has between 1 and 4 illustrations associated with it, mostly on how to tie it, but sometimes with what it looks like tied. These illustrations are very simple, and clear, but do have more of a flair than just a line telling you what to do (they actually look like rope). They suffer from what all “how-to” books suffer from, they don’t quite explain exactly what to do in a 3-dimensional space. Even with the worded explanations provided I found myself having to try knots again and again with slight adjustments and reviews of the diagram. Since most of the images are singular they don’t provide the proper context for the “process” that is tying the knot, and even the multiple images convey motion very poorly. But that could also be a function of how “knot-illiterate” I am.

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Included in the book along with these knot-tying instructions is information about materials, the parts of a rope, rope repair, rope care, and a glossary of terms related to ropes and knot-tying. All of this information is presented in easy-to-read and understand ways, with minimal but well-written (and drawn) text and diagrams. Almost everything is easy to understand (once you get the hang of it or are interested in an application) and nothing superfluous is added to inflate the book’s length. That being said, some of the sections were incredibly boring to a person (like me) who wouldn’t have a need for those knots on a regular basis (the fishing knot section comes to mind) and if one doesn’t closely follow the instructions it isn’t hard to get lost. But, as I said, I’m not one who needs many knots; the fishing, hoisting, farmwork, and sailing knots aren’t of particular use to me, and the sections aren’t “enthralling”.

For a newbie like me just starting to really learn knots (I didn’t retain much boy-scout knowledge) this is an unintimidating way to get started. The knots you really need are present and presented in a generally understandable format. It is worth mentioning that you pretty much need a rope or the described tying device (fishing line in some cases, or a frayed rope to whip and mend) to get the full effect. And reading this book is almost useless without a lot of practice during and afterwards. Knots aren’t just things that you throw in your brain and then can do perfectly. They need to be practiced in order to be effectively executed. But while the book can’t do that for you, I’d say it’s a good place to start.

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