THE CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance

Larry Gonick, Author . Norton $21.95 (300p) ISBN 978-0-393-32403-7

The second volume of Gonick's deeply researched, lucid and hilarious overview of history was published eight years ago. Good things take time, evidently. This third installment begins in the year 395, with the closing of Europe's pagan temples, and ends in 1492, with Columbus and crew setting sail. Readers get an overview of nearly everything that occurred between those two events, from the origins of Islam to the great Chinese dynasties and the Crusades, with "flashbacks" to the rise of African culture, the Turco-Mongol tribes and more. Gonick's take on history is whip-smart, skeptical about familiar but questionable stories and absolutely in command of dozens of simultaneous historical threads. He's also very funny, even at his most respectful. (In the chapter on the life of Muhammad, for instance, he makes a running joke of keeping the prophet permanently off-panel.) Gonick is fond of wacky little digressions, and the book includes plenty of learned slapstick (one ongoing gag concerns the "amazing amount of eye-gouging" in Byzantine history). The architecture and clothes in Gonick's work are drawn with convincing realism, but the people are broad, goofy caricatures, which somehow makes the entire presentation even friendlier: in fact, the author employs a handful of walk-ons—disheveled, mustachioed academic types—to explain the more complicated points. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 07/22/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
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