Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I didn't abolish the Senate, I just filled it with my guys who all did what I said."
"Good idea, boss!"
"That made some people mad!"
"We need to do something about it
All education should be entertainment, and this was so entertaining that I learned more about history in these sixty pages than I did during six years of lessons at school. Moreover, I read so retained more than I did watching three seasons of Simon Schama. Studies have proved you retain more when reading; add in the visual cues a comic can connect in your brain and you have a Young Adult bursting with knowledge, having had a whale of a time in the process and so looking forward to more!
The cartooning is bright, gleeful and incredibly detailed as each interviewee takes you back in time to celebrate their crowning achievements and most moronic moments. Did you know, for example, that Florence Nightingale's Crimean endeavours ended up killing more soldiers than they saved? Her Nightingale Rose diagram shows the number that died in battle was dwarfed by the thousands who died of infections caught and spread within the confines of the hospital. Dick Turpin turns out to be a much less impressive loser than his enduring reputation would have you believe, while Queen Boudica (she of the multiple name spellings) almost had the Roman soldiers on the run
"We had them trapped and outnumbered by twenty to one."
"Uh, sir, I have to go. My wife's giving birth
"My mum's giving birth!
"I'm giving birth!"
but her soldiers, so confident that some charged in nekkid, all came a cropper at the impenetrable end of the Roman Tortoise, a wall of shields as strong as its shell with swords and spears sticking out of it.
That Adam Murphy chose conversations with cadavers is essential to the merriment: a long list of facts would have been so, so dull, and besides, kids love corpses. Instead the pun-prone man with the microphone really engages, aggravates and occasionally runs away from his guests in outright terror. It's a performance like Kermit the Frog's.
He's also done his research like any smart interviewer and carefully constructs each episode around the most salient scenes, thus distilling but not distorting the stories, putting them firmly into perspective (especially Joan of Arc's) and so really making you think! Just as education should be entertaining it should also be engaging: not just force-feeding students facts, but making them think about what they're learning.
Marie Curie discovered radiation: hurrah! It killed her: hurr-oh! Her notebooks are so radioactive they still can't be handled safely. Leonardo Da Vinci was a true Renaissance Man (he was both an all-rounder and had a slight helping hand in the Italian Renaissance) so studied the anatomy he painted so well. He then went on to design flying machines and weapons of war - lots of them including a robot! - but bought caged birds to free them and was possibly the only vegetarian in Italy. Unusual in those days. Pirate Anne Bonny initially cross-dressed to fool her crew but then got fooled too when the man she fell in love with turned out to be playing the same game. If you think Murphy could resist "What a drag!" you are very much mistaken.
Almost every conversation is curtailed with a similar pun, begins with a tombstone decorated according to the subject's most iconic object or association, and is introduced to viewers with a big Kermit flail.
"This week, my guest is a truly timeless classic! It's the piano prodigy, violin virtuoso, king of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!"
You can almost year the Muppets' applause.
Like Andi Watson in GLISTER, Adam Murphy does not shy away from deploying what may be new words to young readers like "appellation" and quite right too: if you don't encounter new words, how can you learn them? You can even learn a little Latin ("Ave!") and where Crossing the Rubicon came from (clue: crossing the Rubicon).
The book begins with a chronological rabbit warren of graves, tombs and catacombs each denoting a key note in history, crucial for context, dating back from 1969 (Moon landing) to circa 3000 BC when writing was invented and I was aged five.
I leave you with a King Tut titbit in which we learn why the genetically disadvantaged Tutankhamun was a bit rickety on his pins and almost always ill: his dad married his own sister! And so did he!