I bought Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Modern World: Volume 1 on Thursday, and I've already done one read through. So I figured, let's talk about that today.
For thsoe who haven't been introduced to Gonick's work, he's written a 3 volume work titled the Cartoon History of the Universe, which ran from the start of the universe to just before Columbus set sail across the Atlantic. He accomplished that little feat by breezing through everything prior to Mesopotamian civilization in about 100 pages. It makes sense, he's more a historian than a paleontologist I suppose, he probably wants to focus on history of the civilized world, as there are more records of that.
Modern World Volume 1 picks up where Volume 3 of History of the Universe leaves off, with Columbus getting his funding and setting sail. Technically, it starts with a brief examination of the people who were already living in the Americas prior to Christopher's arrival. From there it runs through Cortes, Pizarro, the Thirty years War, Henry the 8th, eventually stopping at the writing of the U.S. Constitution. It can be a little difficult to keep track of all the names, especially when there are so damned many people named Henry and James, but I think that would be true of most any history text you flipped through. The part of the book I most enjoy is the anecdotes he drops along the way, to give you a feel for the people you're reading about. Two quick examples:
- The Mexicas, who eventually form the Aztec Empire, did not try to kill enemies in battle, but to capture them. The prisoner would be adopted in his captor's family, only to be sacrificed on the altar at some point thereafter.
- When the French settled in Canada in 1605, it was during a period where Catholics and Protestants were encouraged to coexist, but neither side liked it. Apparently, the ride across the ocean was marred (or livened up) by periodic fights between the priests and ministers of the opposite sides. When they reached Canada, it just so happened that a priest and a minister died on the same day, so the people buried them in the same grave, to see if they would lie together quietly. Fortunately for the colonists, they did (probably not so fortunate for the Native Americans, as finding out that this new land caused the dead to rise might have discouraged settlement).
And the book is full of things like that, including breakdowns on Thomas Hobbes and John Locke's differing theories of government, why the Netherlands was such a large economic power for a time, and so on. The book is focused heavily on Europe and the Americas, so hopefully the next volume will shift focus to Africa and Asia (though there is discussion of the power shift in India, before European imperialization sets in).
Gonick's artisitc style seems to have settled in for this volume. In earlier works, the art would shift from very cartoony, with big eyes, and rounded faces, generally brighter work, to much darker backgrounds, sketchier looking, with the faces more often being almost crescent shaped. I couldn't discern a distinct pattern, though I didn't notice the shift to grittier art as he covered Athens rise and fall, especially the fall. In this volume, the art seems to settle in the middle, leaning a little more towards the "sketchiness".