Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Cartoon History of the Universe II, Volumes 8-13: From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome

This book is the second of five in a series from creator Larry Gonick. It follows immediately after the last volume, which ended with Alexander the Great's quest to conquer the world stalling in India. In this volume, we learn more about what went on in the eastern hemisphere, with great attention to the history of ancient India, the growth of the Chinese empire in Asia, and the rise of major world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Confucianism (which is more a way of life than a religion, but still...).

The second half of the book returns to the western hemisphere, documenting the rise of the Roman republic into an empire, but also telling tales about the northern peoples, including the Huns, Goths, and Germans, who rose up to eventually topple it. Paralleling these accounts is the rise of Christianity as a major world religion.

Even when tackling major issues and events, Gonick inserts wit, humor, and personality into the proceedings. As see by the range of reviews on Goodreads, this book is generally well-liked, with people stating they enjoy learning from the comic format. In a New York Times book review Jonathan Spence wrote that it was "a curious hybrid, at once flippant and scholarly, witty and politically correct, zany and traditionalist." He also adds that the book falls victim to one of the plagues of textbooks in general, that it covers topics in a quick manner without much elaboration or analysis.

Gonick offers a sample page on his website, and a lengthier preview is available from

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