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Cartoon Guide to the Modern World Part II

Updated on May 28, 2010

The final chapter!

A wonderful end to a wonderful series

Larry Gonick has been working on his Cartoon Histories for near on 30 years now, off and on. The series, made up of the three "Cartoon History of the Universe" books and the two "Cartoon History of the Modern World" books, document the history of the, well, Universe.

"The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part II" is the final volume in the series, starting where the previous "Modern World" left off (with the beginning of colonialism) and ending with the Iraq war sometime around 2008. Gonick doesn't focus much on the US, mostly because he already wrote a Cartoon History of the United States, and instead tries to show how events around the world connect together in interesting ways. Some of these possible connections are interesting to think about: for instance, how the Opium Wars may have allowed Britain to give up slavery, how David Hume might have been inspired by recently imported Buddhist philosophy, and how the rise of bold new art styles may have frustrated failed art student Adolf Hitler, leading him on a much darker path.

The other thing Gonick is really good at (and has been good at throughout the series) is his use of anecdotes: I found particularly fascination the creation of Tsingtao Beer, the story of a contemporary of Freud's who thought all ailments, physical or mental,came from the nose, and an attempt during the French Revolution by a Haitian named Vincent Oge to get equal rights for free men of color in Haiti and France, to name but three examples. Gonick is also good about documenting not only the big events that everyone has already heard of, but also the smaller events that sometimes get overlooked, such as the Taiping Rebellion (led in China by a man who believed himself to be Jesus Christ's younger brother) and the early revolutions in South America led by Francisco de Miranda (often overshadowed by Bolivar's South American revolutions).

Gonick is also quite funny. Some of his images (King Leopold II arriving at the Berlin Conference with a shopping cart, for example) cut right to the satirical point, making me chuckle. This humor also has the effect of making all the history easier to swallow: something about the humorousness of the text lets your guard down, so the learning doesn't get boring. 

All in all, I found this to be a wonderful end to one of my favorite series. I'm sad to see it ended (unless Gonick is wanting to do a more indepth cartoon history of a particular region, or do one of the past two years), but I enjoyed it while it lasted, and I'm sure I will reread both this book and the series as a whole. A wonderfully informative and wonderfully fun history book.     


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