Monday, July 5, 2010

The Cartoon History of the Universe I: Volumes 1-7: From the BIG BANG to Alexander the Great

This book began as a series of comic books that started in 1977. It covers history from the Big Bang until the time of Alexander the Great (roughly 350 - 320 BCE) with well-researched facts, footnotes, citations, resources for further reading, and the timely infusion of humor. The author/illustrator Gonick plays the narrator, portraying himself with wild Einstein-style hair and amazing abilities to travel through time and space.

Volumes 1 through 7 cover a broad range of history, from the origins of the universe and life on Earth to the Ice Age and the rise of human civilizations. The high points include sections on Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the Middle East via the Old Testament (or the Torah), Mycenaean Greece, and Athens. At the end of the book are pages dedicated to brief commentary on the references that inform the cartoons, which could also be read for further information.

Writer and artist Larry Gonick has been creating comics since the early 1970s, and he has made a cottage industry out of his Cartoon series of nonfiction. His works range in topic across chemistry, genetics, statistics, and sex. He has served as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT as well as a cartoonist for Discover and Muse magazines. He and his work have won a number of awards including a Harvey and an Inkpot. For those interested in his life and work, this interview with Richard Morris is quite informative. This interview with Chris Mautner at Robot 6 gives some insight into the Cartoon History of the Universe books, his magnum opus.

The Cartoon History of the Universe books have been very well received and have been translated into many languages and sold internationally. Reviews have been largely positive, and many of them point out that it was entertaining and effective to learn about history via comics. J. Stephen Bolhafner called it "a delight to read." Jerry Stratton stated that this book and the rest of the series "should be on every bookshelf of the English-speaking world." Gonick also catalogs a diverse range of reviews on his website.

Gonick offers a sample page on his website, but a lengthier preview can be found at

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