Heretics Book Review

By Steven Nadler, Ben Nadler
Princeton University Press, 192pages | Buy on Amazon

With its delightful visuals and simplistic way of presenting complex topics, Heretics! has what it takes to become a classic, or even better yet — pioneer a new literary genre.

It’s extremely rare to come across a book that’s innovative in form as well as in content, but I think Heretics! just deserves those accolades. Masterfully mixing a comic book style with complex notions from science and philosophy, Heretics! manages to charm and educate at the same time, and it does all this in style.

Reading about 17th-century philosophy sounds like a daunting task. But going through a graphic novel, sprinkled with delightful jokes and lovable characters is definitely more attractive. You learn just a bit about people such as Descartes, Leibniz, or Newton. You get the feel of how they were feeling in the religion-dominated historic context of their time, and how they might have felt about each other in terms of ideas and philosophy. Most remarkably, it does all this while being cute. This is where I feel Heretics! shines most: it’s fun for everyone, whether you’re a child, a philosophy undergrad, or just someone who wants to read about these gargantuan personalities who shaped how we think for centuries to come. It has something to offer to all of us. It’s a neat way to get you cracking in the complex and often bizarre world of philosophy.

Can you guess who this person is, and what kind of trouble he was referring to? Image credits: Nadler & Nadler.

Of course, you won’t come out with a philosophy degree from the book. If anything, you’ll come out with a thirst to know more about the revolutionary theories of Spinoza, for example. You’ll learn how much of a chain the Church was to philosophers, how they tried to mix in their personal beliefs with the mandatory existence of God, and how they reached surprising conclusions working with drastically insufficient information. It’s an unlikely testament to their brilliance.

The cartoonish style of the panels highlights that this book wants to be approachable. It wants to be read and enjoyed by everybody, discussing complex topics in a fun way. It wants to show you the start of modern philosophy while putting a smile on your face. It’s an approach (mixing serious stuff with humor and graphics) which I hope to see in more books.