on November 19, 2002
It's been eight years since the last volume of Larry Gonick's fitfully-amusing, often-infuriating and always-interesting chronicle came out. Was Volume 3 worth the wait?
Well, no, not really. I don't envy Gonick the task of squeezing three continents and 800 years into 300 pages, but he was able to do the second volume in four years, and many fans have been tapping our fingers with impatience waiting for this one to come out.
That snit-fit out of the way, the book is all you'd expect from the previous volumes, with terrific chapters on the rise of Islam and the Mongols. The narrative gallops along at a brisk pace, with unexpected surprises and much needed chronicles of dark chapters in history, like Visigothic Spain. Gonick also cuts back on some of his politically-correct tendencies and amps up the humor in this work. You're not going to agree with all of Gonick's conclusions, he gets a few things wrong (the dates of Clovis' reign in France come 40 years after the man died) and is generally too hard on Europe and too easy on the Byzantine Empire and the caliphate.
These are minor nits to pick, though. The book is as engaging as other entries in the series, and more informative than some straight histories. Here's hoping we don't have to wait another decade for Volume IV.
on November 14, 2002
In his third and much awaited instalment of the Cartoon History of the Universe, Larry Gonick tackles a difficult section of human history, one with ongoing repercussions in the modern world: the period from the rise of Islam to the beginning of Columbus's explorations.
Aware of the touchiness of some of the material (the cover illustration is a wry acknowledgement of this), Gonick tells the story of Mohammed in an even-handed manner without once allowing an image of the prophet to slip into the frame.
The central stage of the story is the Middle East, but Gonick devotes a whole section to African history of the era, and looks at what's going on in China and Japan, western Europe, and of course Central Asia, which becomes so important in this period. Then he ties it all together, somehow even giving tax policy a touch of comic zip. And I especially enjoyed the page about the magic beans of Ethiopia.
Both earlier Cartoon Histories are excellent, but this book is more pressingly a valuable backgrounder for current events.
on October 9, 2002
I loved the first two volumes of cartoon history and also Larry Gonic's cartoon history of USA. I preordered the third volume as soon as I spotted it on internet. This one is good too; but (in my opinion) not as good as previous two. In this volume Gonick focus's on history flow and details so much that historical insight and understanding have almost been abandoned. It almost reads like a race or country coming up and then another one overthrowing them and this goes on and on.
Partly this may be because history during this period is of ups and downs of races and people. Another reason could be that he is covering a huge amount of material and detail in a small space.
Also my opinion may have been distorted by the fact that I was awed and overwhelmed when I saw the first two volumes and was expecting a book from Jupiter on the third.
All this said, I still feel, this is a very good book and I will preorder the next volume too. Hope it arrives soon.
There are two more cartoon histories that I found are good besides the four from Larry Gonic. First - The Story of the Jews: A 4,000-Year Adventure by Stan Mack and the second - Latino USA: A Cartoon History by Ilan Stavans. Interestingly I have not found any other cartoon histories. Are cartoonists listening? There's money in the air; all it you need to do is pick it up.
on August 20, 2003
I waited 8 years for this book and I want to throttle whichever publisher neglected to promote the thing - thus depriving me of months when I could have been reading it. It's Gonick at his irreverent best - teaching and eschewing history simultaneously. The long-running jokes ("where's Muhammed? Off camera." - repetition of the "pooping in a church" incident from several perspectives, etc.) as well as the sarcastic way of presenting historical facts made the first two books excellent and continues to amuse in this book.
However, it's not as fun as the first two books. Maybe because there's too much time jumped in the from 1000 - 1492. Maybe because he's trying to capture the histories of too many simultaneously developing societies and keeps backtracking to the same point in time. Most likely it's because this is history less known. With the first volume we had Biblical history and Ancient Greece. With the second volume there was Roman and Christian history alongside lesser known (at least to Western readers) Chinese and INdian history. In this book the oft-neglected Byzantine history is what we get of Western history while African, Muslim, Chinese and Indian history fight for the spotlight.
While I'd like to enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the first two books, I'm slightly disappointed. Still there's no way I regret buying this book and I eagerly await the fourth volume (hopefully sooner than this one)
on December 5, 2002
I just finished reading this third volume of the greatest history books ever! It's simply a masterpiece. Larry Gonick has a superbly keen sense of understanding political, cultural, and even economical atmospheres in the context of the era he covers in this book (appox. 500-1500 CE). All the significant events and trends are tied together in an incredibly witty way, and always in a global context. He cleverly shows how interrelated and interdependent the world was back then. Jewish kingdom in Central Asia, Normans at the Balkans, and the Christian mother of Kublai Khan are all the surprizing new gems of knowledge I gained from this delightful book. Drawing-wise, I am glad Gonick took extra effort (better than Volume II) to create a feast of imagery and emotion. His medium of cartoon really gives much more than plain texts, especially historical texts. Just look into all those sad expressions of the ill-fated ones, and don't tell me you dont get sympathetic!
Volume I was my favorite book when I was in middle school, Volume II during my senior year in high school, and now, with a degree in History, I still get inspired and taught by this new, and best yet, volume of the History of the Universe series.
on October 21, 2002
When Gonick's comics first started popping up in comic book stores, I took it as some sort of underground comics joke - "This can't actually be about history, right?" Then I figured, "He'll never get an audience." Then I figured, "he'll never finish it."
Well, "Cartoon History" became a bookstore smash, and now Gonick takes us right up to the time of Columbus (the book ends with him setting sail).
I'm not enough of a historian to judge his accuracy, but his hard work and love of the subject are obvious, and his cartooning is delightful. Typically, Gonick's text tells us what's happening, and the cartoon shows it happening, with the real-life characters often giving away their true motives in reg'lar talk that intentionally robs them of their mystique. Instead of making them seem fictional, the cartooning and jokes make the icons of history humans we can relate to.
Sometimes characters are sketchy, or crowded out by text and/or maps, but that's because this book has a lot to say, and Gonick goes with whatever gets his point across best. The best part of this approach is how many disparate events can be tied together, and you SEE not just when but WHERE events happen. This is great because it makes the geography of history, always a great headache to me, easier to follow. Good thing, too, because this one literally goes all over the map. (as it should!)
Highly recommended to history and comics fans of all ages, though high-minded parents should be notified that, though his work couldn't be called [bad], Gonick does not shy from tackling issues ...
on December 20, 2002
Gonick is a highly trained mathematician who more or less left academe to become a cartoonist, and has won several awards in that endeavor. He's also a very fair general historian, especially in the way of multi-everything synthesis. This volume comprises volumes 14-19 in the series (as they were originally published), covering the back-story to and rise of Islam, the post-Roman history of Africa, the further development of China and India, and all the complexity of events taking place in Central Asia. Oh, yeah -- Europe, too! Actually, most of us with professional historian's training are still apt to think in European and North American terms, for which Gonick's work is a great antidote. He also puts paid to any notion of Islam being a "peaceful" religion -- no more than Christianity, certainly -- and readers with a knowledge of Jewish history also will be nodding at his witty but pointed renderings. And how many comic books have you read that include an index and an annotated bibliography?
on December 12, 2003
I was eagerly anticipating the third installment of the Cartoon History of the Universe, as I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the first two installments. I have to say that, although this is a good representation, it was a little disappointing. The book is quite a bit shorter than the two previous volumes, and Gonick seems to have lost a little of his irreverent attitude. Perhaps it is because the subject matter (Mohammed and the rise of Islam, as well as the Crusades) don't quite lend themselves to irreverence. That being said, Gonick still does an excellent job researching and communicating the finer points of history, and his artwork is still way up there in my book.
Because of the limitations listed above, I would recommend reading this book first for anyone who doesn't need a linear history, as all three books are relatively self-contained. However, if you are a reader who needs to start at the beginning and go from there, this book is still a good addition to the series. I would recommend this book to any history enthusiast or comics fan.
on September 18, 2003
I'm not a terribly religious guy. And, for better or worse, Gonic's graphic "novel" -- if it can be called that -- made me take long-held beliefs, many of which were based on legend, superstition and the heresay of institutional elders, and flipped the flippin' things upside down!
I read "Cartoon History... III" during a time when my already-loose faith in Christ and the church that represents him was on the wane; and this book gave me the chance to reconsider religion's place in my life -- religion, as opposed to spirituality and a hopeful belief in God. It -- religion -- was not crushed in value, but perhaps it was diminished. OK, it was really, really diminished, and perhaps my sense of spirituality and belief in a higher power was, too, though not AS diminished.
But never mind all that. Read "Cartoon History" for the comedy within. It is poignant, brilliant, subtle, irreverent and questioning. Gonick is a freakin' genius.
In the end, this set of volumes gives readers the chance to question their values, which all great works of art should aspire to. We need to do the proverbial soul-gut check every once in awhile, even if it means a few icons get smashed. This book does a pretty good job of giving readers an overview of the world's great religions, and takes what at least seems like a journalistic viewpoint to the layperson (aka myself) of the events that brought about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. Non-religous history is in there too, but throughout this epoch, religion is history.
I was left with the conclusion that many, many souls -- far too many -- have been extinguished in the fight over "your God or mine," which, during the reading, troubled me deeply, but opened new windows in my own outlook. This book affirmed for me the great gift that life is, but proved that, to many thoughout history, life was, and is, cheap.
Be careful when you read this -- you may never be able to worship in quite the same way again.
on April 4, 2004
Now this is the way history ought to be taught! While I personally have always enjoyed history and found it fascinating how historical events have an impact on our lives today, I have also always been distressed that so many people haven't the faintest interest or knowledge of even basic history. I concluded that this was mainly a result of the way history is taught in schools, via boring, dry textbooks whose only pictures were paintings of kings or photographs of a Greek vase or architectural ruins.
Gonick's portrayal of history through the medium of comic illustrations is timely and wonderful. It is also remarkably well-researched and delves into history most in the West are unfamiliar with, such as the origins of Islam, the great empires of Africa and central and east Asia, and the history of Europe in the Dark Ages, between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Renaissance.
While the presentation is at times hilarious and firmly tongue-in-cheek much of the time, it also doesn't sugarcoat the many wars, massacres, and other nefarious doings of human beings throughout history, but even in this Gonick is able to make light of the situation, making a running joke of the Byzantine's practice of always blinding a deposed emperor (so he couldn't return to the throne) and poking fun at his own Jewish heritage (the Jewish queen of Ethiopia putting a guilt trip on her soldiers: "Why don't you WIN more!? Don't you love me!?")
I would highly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in history, and even more highly to those with school-age children or relatives who might be struggling with history because of the poor presentation too many school teachers give the subject.