I've never really liked science. That will probably come as no surprise to anyone who knows how I get goofy over certain works of art as opposed to looking at the formal and exacting process of the scientific method, but my eyes start to glaze over when certain words are spoken around me: the Periodic Table of the Elements brings a yawn; talk of Einstein gets me to check my twitter feed on my iPhone; discussion of cell theory has me reaching for the nearest book that will take me away from all this real world data processing.
It’s not that I'm not interested in the ways that the world around me actually works. I do want to understand the principles of Einstein's Theory of Relativity and Darwin's Theory of Evolution. I want to have an idea of the vastness of the universe and comprehend why chemicals are arranged in that weird table. Yeah, I'm curious about my surroundings but I'm just not a person who knowledge as cold, hard collection of facts as much as I do as a series of complex systems continually sliding and banging off of each other.
So I was very happy to find that Margreet de Heer has created a new graphic novel that's intended for people who are similar to me. Science: A Discovery in Comics follows in the footsteps of her similar book about philosophy. And while this treatise didn't completely help me get over my dislike of science, it would be the perfect item to give to any teen or tween who is having problems in their school science classes with the fundamentals of this subject matter.
In this graphic novel, just as in her Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics, de Heer takes an extremely large and tremendously multifarious topic and boils it down to just a couple of hundred charmingly written, delightfully colored, very human explorations of these complicated topics. There's never a sense that she's talking down to her readers; instead, it's clear that de Heer is sharing her enthusiasm for scientific ideas and her obviously thorough research into these subjects. With her typical silly, blobby people juxtaposed against abstract backgrounds and interesting graphs, de Heer creates a book that's fun to take in and that always keeps these complex subjects from getting too hard to understand.
de Heer has an ambitious agenda here. She aims to tell the entire history of science from the beginning of mankind all the way up to the present day in less than 200 pages. She's diligent about tracing the different areas of scientific thought through all of the most important thinkers over the years. Scientists and mathematicians such as Farenheit, Faraday, Fox, poor cheated Rosiland Franklin and eccentric genius Richard Feynman make cameo appearances, and de Heer spends extended time talking about the lives and theories of some of the most important scientists in history, including Galileo, Newton and of course Einstein.
She also takes pains to explore the deep histories and most complicated ideas of most of the major areas of science – astronomy, biology, physics, genetics, relativity and a slew of other areas – and those sections sometimes gave me a bit of a feeling of whiplash as I made my way through some of the different sections that she presents. Just as I was getting interested in learning more about atomic theory or the labyrinthine controversies around evolution, Science shifted on to the next topic that she wanted to discuss.
That breezy nature fits the aim of this graphic novel as a very general overview of the topic of science, but I kept wishing that de Heer had taken more time to explore many of the subjects that she covers. I admire her ambitions, but she's taking on extremely complex ideas with many multifaceted aspects and difficult ideas to comprehend. Science might better have been served by either a longer page count or by splitting it into two volumes: one on earth sciences and one on more abstract sciences, or something like that anyway. This book was missing some follow-up that really would have helped these topics come even more vividly to life.
But maybe I'm asking too much, because de Heer takes the format that worked so well for her in Philosophy: A Discovery in Comics and delivers a solidly entertaining and very interesting introduction into a world about which I lacked real knowledge. I may never love science as much as some people do, but a book like this one helps me appreciate it quite a bit more.