Book Review: Two Graphic Novels

I decided to take a break from my usual reading patterns and explore two intriguing phenomena.  The first is graphic novels which my public library now has an entire section devoted to and I’ve heard a lot of buzz about their art and creativity.  The second is steampunk, a genre of science fiction based on possible but not probable technology from the 19th century.  With this twin interests in mind I checked out the following books:

The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle by Boaz Yakin, Erez Yakin and Angus McKie.

Two English scientists Angus and McKee learn that strange climactic changes and invasions of even stranger creatures are caused by the time travel exploits of the eponymous Prof. Fuddle.  Apparently Fuddle decided to travel through time to share technology with earlier cultures in order to prevent violence and warfare.  Instead he creates a time paradox of multiple, overlapping universes.

Angus and McKee follow Fuddle through time in an attempt to reverse Fuddle’s interventions.  Most of the plot is nonsensical but fun as the two English scientists visit pharaoh’s Egypt, ancient India, and medieval England.  They get in and out of scrapes, and eventually find Fuddle and return him home.  Or do they?

The best part of this book is the illustration with colorful, chaotic scenes of ancient cultures adapting to modern technology that come out as cross between Where’s Waldo? and William Hogarth.

The 4thRail Review

The Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders

This graphic novels sets off a battle of Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, Baroness Bertha Von Suttner vs. JP Morgan, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, and Andrew Carnegie.  Tesla and his assistant invent a giant robot which Twain and the Baroness see as a means of creating world peace on the theory that no one would want to face the annihilation of this massive weapon.  Meanwhile Morgan and Edison construct a giant tower to tap into the dark arts and gain power for themselves through human sacrifices.  Inevitably the two sides go into battle with good triumphing over evil.  Or does it?

I liked the quirky use of historical characters in this book although I feel it could use more text and dialog to fill out the narrative.

This is something I’d like to read more of so if anyone has any good graphic novel or steampunk recommendations, let me know in the comments.

Book Review: The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn

Another book about babies. This one is thankfully free of gory details. Instead The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, & Patricia K. Kuhl examines developmental psychology in children. It turns out that babies are a lot like scientists in the ways they interact with their new world and test assumptions. Or maybe scientists are like babies because it is in our earliest years that we first develop our capacity for learning.

The authors examine how babies recognize other people and themselves, differentiate objects, and develop language. They also have instinctive means to train adults and older children to help in their development. This book is a lot of fun and a fascinating read.

Favorite Passages:

It may be some comfort to know that these toddlers don’t really want to drive us crazy, they just want to understand how we work. The tears that follow the blowup at the end of a terrible-twos confrontation are genuine. The terrible twos reflects a genuine clash between children’s need to understand other people and their need to live happily with them. Experimenting with conflict may be necessary if you want to understand what people will do, but it’s also dangerous. The terrible twos show how powerful and deep-seated the learning drive is in these young children. With these two-year olds, as with scientists, finding the truth is more than a profession — it’s a passion. And, as with scientists, that passion may sometimes make them sacrifice domestic happiness. – p. 38.

The two most successful examples of human learning turn out to be quite similar. Children and scientists are the best learners in the world, and they both operate in very similar, even identical ways, ways that are unlike even our best computers. They never start from scratch; instead, they modify and change what they already know to gain new knowledge. But they are also never permanently dogmatic — the things they know (or think they know) are always open to further revision.

While the idea that scientists are like children might seem surprising at first, it helps make sense of some otherwise puzzling facts. Scientists, after all, have the same brains as the rest of us. And science is convincing because, at some level, all of us can recognize the value of explaining what goes on around us and predicting what will happen in the future. … Why would we have such powerful learning abilities if we never even used them back in the Pleistocene? …

Our answer is that these abilities evolved for the use of babies and young children. – p. 156-7

BrainConnection by Anne Pycha

NEA by
Marcia D’Arcangelo and Andrew Meltzoff.
Science Blog