The Cartoon History Series
by Larry Gonick


These books with many others had (for various circumstances) been in boxes for years, and they were the first I decided to re-read when I pulled them out. They are a wonderful romp through history – scholarly research presented with great style and humor.

Gonick’s humor is sometimes irreverent and snarky, though not in an overtly mean way, and sometimes just silly, like a couple of his pop music jokes:

In CHU III, in his history of Pippin the Short (Charlemagne’s father), you see two almost dead soldiers laying on the ground, one says, “‘Greatest king of the Dark Ages’ Woo-woo!” and the other replies, “Isn’t that like ‘Disco’s greatest hits?'”

In CHU II, in the history of ancient Rome he writes, “In 453 the Vandals sacked Rome committing more acts of the kind now known as vandalism.” and there’s a drawing of a person standing by a broken pump saying, “The pump don’t work.” (Bob Dylan reference, kiddies).

Printed in large size paperbacks, The Cartoon History series is a great argument against the “death of paper books“. Brilliantly illustrated maps like the “Cro-Magnon Conquest of the World”, events like the desolation of Athens after the Persians burnt it down, or fighting in World War I are depicted in spreads that can’t easily be shown on a small screen. If you enjoy comic strips, then these will be right up your alley.

As far as the history itself, Gonick does a great job integrating the people, events and ideas that shaped history, digging in to the origins of ideas such as democracy and capitalism, as well as the lives of philosophers, rulers, scientists, and generals. His approach is pleasantly non dogmatic, this isn’t ‘The Great Men of the Western World’; Asia, Africa, and South America all get their due. He shows how small places, like Potosí in Bolivia (where the Spanish mined silver) and Haiti (which figures prominently in the history of France and their involvement in the Americas) can loom large.