Page 45 Review by Stephen
- Charles Darwin on discovering the Galapagos Islands
Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing! It's a fifth of the battle won.
It probably also requires a lot of studious research, fiercely analytical minds, a wealth of imagination and the odd dollop of genius - but enough about Adam and Lisa, what about the scientists?
However mirth-makingly irreverent it is in its gleeful delivery, this all-ages graphic novel bubbles full to the brim with history and 100% accurate hard science, often explained with a skill, clarity and loads of lateral thinking to match their much lauded (or shamefully side-lined) subjects.
I learned or re-learned so much that had long-since escaped me while securing a far greater sense of context as Lisa and Adam took me chronologically through scientific break-through after break-through, some building on previous discoveries whilst ditching old, untested presumptions.
This was the key to the Scientific Revolution some 500 years ago: the acknowledgement of ignorance coupled with a renewed curiosity to learn rather than simply accept ancient dictums as if they were written in stone. Which, err, some of them were!
Before then the priority was the preservation of the past, even if the past was a load of old bunkum. But not every party was prepared to take off their blinkers to let in new light, as poor Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) discovered when presenting irrefutable mathematical evidence that the Earth revolved around the Sun or strong collaborative research promoting Natural Selection as the mechanism for evolution when organised religion had already firmly established through painstaking fabrication that the Earth was in fact flat as well as the centre of the universe, and that God had created its myriad creatures in all their glory in a single day over a quiet week, just the other month.
If you've yet to become acquainted with the CORPSE TALK format (previous volumes reviewed in our treasured PHOENIX BOOKS section), Adam Murphy takes it upon himself to dig up old fossils - just as Mary Anning (1799-1847) did before establishment beardy blokes went and stole all her credit - reanimating their brittle bones to badger from them as much as he can before their corpses collapse under the weight of his truly awful puns.
Few of these famous faces appear to have rested soundly in their rudely interrupted, not-so-eternal sleep, for they bring to the sprightly discussion the same sort of modern colloquialisms which Adam brought to his LOST TALES:
"OMG!" Geez!" "Good times!" "Nuts!"
"Pretty freakin' awesome..." boasts Charles Darwin of his beetle collection. Then, when Murphy reveals that his evolutionary explanation of the whale as a descendant of a land mammal gradually adapting to swimming around with its mouth open, scooping up food on the water's surface - hence the huge mouth and nose on top of its head - was in fact now well established, but so ridiculed at the time that he felt compelled to remove it from later editions of 'On The Origin Of The Species', Darwin declares:
"YESS! I KNEW IT! EAT IT, HATERS!"
Even late in the day, a little vindication goes a long way.
Other idiocies of the times include women being banned from schools, universities and of course the military (for a little light catharsis I hugely recommend Jacky Fleming's THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN), which is why Margaret Anne Bulkley became famous as Dr James Barry (1790s-1865), toughing it out long enough in a very fetching officer's jacket to invent modern hygiene.
"I quickly realised that in the army the key thing wasn't so much looking like a man (I just had to wear the right clothes) as it was acting like a man...
"Most importantly, I had to get used to picking fights, talking over people and generally being insufferably opinionated!"
Unsurprisingly, since the Scientific Revolution occurred a mere 500 years ago, most of our ingenious interviewees come from that same span of time. Three, however, pre-date them quite considerably and each has been selected for that prime, requisite quality of not taking past authorities' words as gospel, but thinking, observing and experimenting for themselves: Aristotle (384-322 BCE), Archimedes (287-212 BCE) and Al-Haytham (965-1040).
Aristotle was adamant that no theories or contentions should be taken for granted... unfortunately some his own were, like the seeming appearance of insects in animal poop out of nowhere. That took Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) two millennia to disprove by getting her own hands well and truly dirty. The eggs had been laid in or on food and so travelled through animals' guts. Here's a selection of Aristotle's sayings, the first of which is science all over:
"The more you know, the more you don't know. Y'know?"
"The secret of humour is surprise."
"Wise men speak when they have something to say, fools speak because they have to say something."
That neatly anticipates Bookface and Twitter. But the one aphorism I am most delighted the Murphies resurrected is this, in praise of teachers, which has since been corrupted to disparage them:
"Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach."
Archimedes I found fascinating because although I knew all about the "Eureka" moment and its discovery of water displacement to measure weight, I had no idea until now what the conundrum he was first charged with solving was. Read this and see! He also discovered levers, for which I won't thank him: mechanics was the bane of my maths exams.
I was equally ignorant of Al-Haytham who invented the old hypothesis. No, not "of" - he actually invented the whole hypothesis / disproval discipline, as well as modern optics upon discovering that light travels in a straight line from the sun then bounces off objects into our eyes (upside down) rather than being emitted from ourselves like ocular laser beams! Yes, he experienced the pinhole camera effect while lying in a darkened room!
This is all beautifully explained in one of the double-page spreads which now follow every interview. Even though the format is slightly smaller than previous publications, there's a much greater sense of space on each page and within each pane. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is afforded two double-page spreads but then the Murphies do manage to communicate there his entire Theory of Relatively with astonishing concision and lucidity. They are exceptional communicators, using basketball players' heights, for example, to elucidate on Natural Selection.
More things I learned include the invention of crop rotation by George Washington Carver (1860s-1993). Oh, I'd studied crop rotation at school, but I didn't know it was him, why it was first invented nor what cotton was rotated with - you will be surprised! You'll be surprised both by the crop and that no one was into it. Carver had to come up with multiple new uses for the ground-bound fruit which has since become a staple at soirées. I knew not that Plague Doctors' "beaks" contained sweet-smelling flowers to protect them from the infectious miasma that never existed, nor that it was Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) who came up with the Periodic Table.
The full modern masterpiece is printed on one of those double-page spreads but value-for-money is what the Murphies are all about and they manage to pack in extra information in the form of an illustrated example of how each element is used in everyday life or where it is found. Your general knowledge quiz team will slap you repeatedly on the back for those prized nuggets, I promise you.
Another spread includes an "AC / DC Grudge-Match from Beyond the Grave" featuring Edison and Tesla (1856-1943) duking it out in an Extreme Science stand-off, just as they did in real life with Edison's manipulative, bad-science fear-mongering making him the Donald Trump of his day.
As well as the language, kids will love all the visual comedy too, like the 18th Century aristos smothering themselves in powder to hide the after-effects of small pox, then dotting their faces with so many beauty spots to hide each individual pock-mark that they look as if they've come down with multi-coloured measles. Yes, I think that entry for Edward Jenner (1749-1823) will prove particularly popular with those sharing my mental age range (single digits, me) for the disgusting depictions of those in full, porridge-like, pustule-ridden small-pox bloom and the very idea that infected cowpox scabs (scabs!) were inserted into healthy wounds as an early from of vaccination.
There are eighteen entries in total to enjoy, and enjoyed they will be! I've long contended that all education should be entertainment, and here you will learn as you gawp, gurn and grin with glee.