Friday, January 15, 2010

The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 2 From The Bastille to Baghdad by Larry Gonick

The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 2 From The Bastille to Baghdad by Larry Gonick

This book is the final book in a long running series of cartoon histories by Larry Gonick. I remember reading the first one when I was in high school. They made history very entertaining. The cartoons drawn by Larry Gonick did not leave out the juicy parts of history; intrigue, thievery, murder, affairs, and human foibles that were not often in the high school textbooks. The way he describes history leaves no group spared. He is out to expose humanity in all its glory from every corner of the globe.

I found the first half of the History of the Modern World to be better than the latter half of the book. Larry Gonick seems to do a better job with the older history. I think this is because he uses a lot of primary source material. History before World War I is less open to interpretation, partially because most of the people from that time period are dead. The second half of the book includes many people who are still alive.

There is a definite slant to the left in this book, especially in his coverage of the Vietnam war and the war in Iraq. However, he does not spare any group when he writes about them. He writes about China, Indonesia, France, Austria, the United States, Nigeria, the Congo, Colombia, and places all over the globe. He attempts to skewer every group when he does his cartoons.

His description of the cold war is different than most. He describes it in a much larger historical perspective which springs from colonialism and earlier history. His take on Russia, China, and the United States is quite interesting. There is quite a bit on the rivalry between Mao and Stalin. Neither communism nor capitalism are spared for their philosophical background.

The subjects in this book are quite diverse, they cover the globe, the Ottoman Empire, Imperial Japan, the end of the slave trade, Napoleon Bonaparte, Stalin, Nixon, World War II, the war in Afghanistan, and many other subjects are covered. He tends to focus on specific incidents where great personages are involved in conflict. This makes the story interesting. The book is meant to be an overview not in depth coverage.

The drawings are in black and white with a traditional panel layout. Many of the panels are annotated and there is a lot of dialogue between historical figures. This often includes historical quotes portrayed in a humorous manner. In addition to larger page layouts, he sometimes include smaller stretches of the panels covering a short incident during a historical time period at the bottom of the pages. Absolutely everything is backed up with an extensive bibliography which includes primary source material and classic historical texts.

There is also an extensive index. The cartooning is excellent. Between chapters he uses the device of a time machine and a professor to explain some of his decisions in cartooning each chapter. The Cartoon History of the Universe Part III won the Harvey Award for comics which is very prestigious in the comics industry. Larry Gonick has also written a wide variety of nonfiction cartoon books, The Cartoon Guide to Statistics, The Cartoon Guide to Sex, The Cartoon History of the United States, and many others. His website is at


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benbes said...

looks like a very interesting book, I will check it out.
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Book Calendar said...

I enjoyed it. It is interesting.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Sounds like a great book for my son who's 14.