Monday, April 20, 2015


I have to admit that I am good friends with the author of this book, Nick Sousanis, and also that I am lucky enough to be mentioned in the acknowledgements. We have presented at conferences together, hung out, and talked a lot about comics and life. Even so, I feel that if I did not know Nick I would still be saying that Unflattening is a remarkable achievement. It is a book about thought, expression, philosophy, art, understanding, and being in the world. And I am going to have a difficult time talking about, to the point where I will certainly be doing it a disservice. Probably the best way to wrap your head around what it is is to go get a copy (or two, that'd be better for Nick) and read it.

This book does so many things and collects diverse influences such as Maxine Greene, Flatland, Monty Python, John Dewey, The Wizard of Oz, Deleuze and Guattari, Alice in Wonderland, René DeCartes, and Scott McCloud. It combines myth, autobiography, philosophy, art, art criticism, popular culture, and narrative in weaving together a complex tapestry of thought, a reflection on how we enter into the world, relate to it, process it, and try to represent it. He depicts this conversation in 10 chapters, each a visual essay drawn in an attractive, mostly realistic style that reminds me of a combination of Scott McCloud and MC Escher.

Just look at this page where Sousanis gets into explaining how our senses and thinking are both linked and limiting:
Or this one where he gets into how symbols shape how we think, create, and sense the world:

My initial response to this work was simply, WOW. Although I feel that today my words are not up to the task of describing the book, this discussion and response to one of Nick's talks at MIT does a great job of touching on the its aims, background, and ideas.

Sousanis is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary. He blogs about his work here, and he also has a new website here. This book was Nick's doctoral dissertation project, and he speaks about it in much depth in this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

All of the reviews I have read about Unflattening have been full of praise. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and called it "Essential reading for anyone seeking to create, critique, or consider the visual narrative form." Brian McGackin concluded his review, "Some people aren't interested in learning, so this book wouldn't be for them, but anyone who is curious, who faces their admitted ignorance with excitement at the possibility of the constant education it implies, they will find joy in Unflattening. We should encourage this type of teaching, because learning should always be this fun." As for my own views, I think that Unflattening is a complex and beautiful book that demands to be read and re-read.

Unflattening was published by Harvard University Press.  They have all kinds of information about the book here.

1 comment:

  1. My hats off to Columbia University for taking a bold step, to Nick Sousanis for seizing the day, and finally and foremost to Abbott, there just might be more than one can immediately perceive!