5 Graphic (Nonfiction) Books

What It Is: the formless thing which gives things form (2008)

By Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry’s What It Is is a book like none other we’ve seen. It’s part stories, part memoir about her life, and part creativity workbook for the reader. It’s nonlinear; it poses questions; it’s fun. One of our favorite bits of wisdom:

To be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape!

Fallout: J. Robert Oppenehimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb (2001)

By Jim Ottaviani, Janine Johnston, Steve Lieber, Vince Locke, Bernie Mireault, Jeff Parker

oppy-pork-pieThe other four books in today’s list circle around nuclear history. A wee bit is fabricated, so Fallout isn’t really nonfiction, but a lot of what happens and what is said in this book really did happen and was said. For instance, early on in the book, Leo Szilard takes a bath and reads H.G. Wells’s The World Is Set Free. Szilard is thought to have enjoyed taking baths and credited that book as one of the two that shaped his thinking.

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie—A Tale of Love and Fallout (2010)

By Lauren Redniss

This book is gorgeous. The other three nuclear history books are told in panels of comic strips, but Radioactive plays with images in different ways, with maps, diagrams, drawings, photographs, lots of shapes and colors. The author even created her own typeface and named it after the spiritualist medium the Curies visited. This book is especially interested in Marie Curie’s relationships, with Pierre, of course, but also with others, including her lover Paul Langevin. The personal story, though, is always woven into history and science, as we see in the early passage that introduces Marie Curie:

Three times before her death, Marya Sklodowska would find, then swiftly lose, a cherished lover. The gray-eyed girl was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, the year chemist and orchid cultivator Alfred Nobel patented dynamite. She would become famous as Marie Curie, twice winning the prize Nobel established with his explosive fortune.

Feynman (2011)

By Jim Ottaviani, Leland Myrick, Hilary Sycamore

Bert2This book is fun. Well, it’s Richard Feynman, and he was a character, and it’s in color. Feynman gives readers Los Alamos, his later lectures, and his role in the Challenger accident investigation, and it also tells of Feynman’s eye for the ladies and his illness. It’s a sweeping biography of a charismatic scientist. One of the most captivating aspects of this book is that Feynman narrates in first person, using boxed voiceovers. In the section about Arline and her diagnosis with tuberculosis, for instance, Feynman reveals his unspoken responses and emotions, eventually concluding:

So we knew we could face things together, and after going through that we had no difficulty facing other problems.

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012)

By Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Trinity is in the same vein as Fallout, though it uses more whole-page and double-page spreads that are visually striking and allow for explanation of concepts, such as everything you need to know about uranium. In the end, this book looks beyond the Trinity test to Mutually Assured Destruction and “Duck and Cover,” to the risks with which we’ve lived since 1945. The afterword concludes:

We would see that the secret of atomic power was stolen not from the gods, but simply from the earth.

And we would remember that this atomic force is a force of nature.

As innocent as an earthquake.

As oblivious as the sun.

It will outlast our dreams.

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