Joanna's Reviews > Cartoon History of the Universe I, Vol. 1-7: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great

Cartoon History of the Universe I, Vol. 1-7 by Larry Gonick
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's review
Feb 14, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: graphic-novel, books-read-2011, non-fiction
Read from February 07 to 13, 2011

The Cartoon History of the Universe is a whirlwind pictorial tour of thousands of years of history that is as hilarious as it is comprehensive. Hilarious: Helen of Troy is drawn with a duck face, as a nod to her origin as the by product of Leda and the Swan. Comprehensive: Gonick doesn't act like Western history starts with the Greeks. He traces the emergent civilizations and empires of the Sumerians, Egyptians, Persians, and many others.

While it is rather disheartening to look at just how many panels of human history can be drawn as cartoonish men in various ages of armor marching against one another, Gonick has a great skill for still making it amusing. He is especially good at drawing animals (sheep and cows and oxen especially) who are perfect as silent commentators, looking at askance at the brutal humans off to fight over further water rights or boundary issues or whatever.

I felt like the book started out as almost more of a science story than a history - but the history of the Big Bang and the emergence of life is really both. He actually makes the science of it feel both engaging and understandable, which is an impressive accomplishment all by itself.

Once humans come on the scene, he does a great job chronicling the various social structures and societies that emerge in all their various forms. He doesn't shy away from sex or slavery or various forms of subjugation that people impose on one another. History is bloody, and so is this book. But it's never offensive, even when it does get graphic. (Although perhaps a speared baby might be a bit over the top, depending on your personal comfort levels with cartoonish violence, but it is awfully funny as used.)

The book doesn't really get too much into religion, although it does use the Old Testament as a source for the history of the Hebrew people. So, more accurately, he doesn't get into the finer points of religion - the stories of gods and goddesses, the specifics of each sects beliefs - and that's fine. That stuff is probably much harder to render, especially as the nature of cartoons is that they are much better at showing action than the subtle causes of action.

Overall, a top notch read. I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

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