Book review: MANKIND: The Story of All of Us Volume 1

MANKIND: The Story of All of Us

MANKIND: The Story of All of Us Volume 1 is a graphic novel that was designed to accompany the Mankind T.V. series on the History Channel. It has 120 pages with 7 individual comic book style stories:

  1. Seeds of Change – “One family’s journey is tracked from the ice age to the world’s first empire as they unlock the key to survival in the soil.” This story shows a family in the ice age and their descendants in early Egypt. The panels show things like cave paintings,  mammoths being hunted, people learning to farm grains and baking bread in stone ovens, different types of grains grown in different parts of the world (Egypt, China, South America, New Guinea), the first written records and calendars, tracking the Nile’s flood, etc.
  2. Pyramid of Man – “A young bronze smith sees the evolution of his trade’s tools at the world’s first recorded battle.” This story takes place during the reign of Tuthmosis and starts out with some Egyptians making bronze spears. It shows a battle being waged with chariots and foot soldiers as a father teaches his son how to fight. After the story there is more information about how Egypt refined the use of bronze and also a little about Tuthmosis III and the pyramids. The info is covered on one page.
  3. The Runner – “A lonely figure runs and impossible trajectory along a set course, destined to make history.” This part of the graphic novel takes place in 490 B.C.E. and is about Pheidippides leaving the Battle of Marathon. One page after the story talks about modern day marathons as well as the idea of democracy.
  4. Will of Iron – “From its origin at the Earth’s core, through battlefields and buildings, iron changes the course of mankind.” This comic starts out 4 billion years ago with the mention of meteorites, etc. and then skips up to 1000 B.C.E.  where you see a man extracting iron from ore and the process by which he does so. The story then hops to Sparta in 479 B.C.E. and shows the progression of iron used in a variety of battles and other uses up until modern times. There is also a short summary about iron after the story that sums up  why iron is so important to mankind (including a short paragraph about how it’s not only used in things we build but also in our bodies).
  5. Citizens and Believers – “As Roman emperors vie to build their legacies out of plunder and silver, on man in Jerusalem builds his legacy out of belief and faith.” This story is about the rise of Christianity and some of the things going on in the Roman Empire at the time. Some scenes from the New Testament are played out such as Jesus with the money changers in the temple as well as his crucifixion. Pontius Pilate is shown as sentencing Christ to death. The comic doesn’t delve into the fact that in reality Pilate avoided responsibility for Jesus’s death and only reluctantly sent him to his death “washing his hands” of it. Instead the comic says, “Pontius Pilate saw Jesus as a dangerous radical who was undermining his authority. He was arrested and put on trial. “Jesus of Nazareth, you are hereby sentenced to death by crucifixion.” There is zero mention of Christ’s resurrection. Afterwards, the persecution of early Christians during the rule of Nero is illustrated. The story skips up to 313 C.E. when Constantine declares Christianity as legal.
  6. Blood and Silk – “A young trader exceeds his family’s wildest hopes as the silk road unlocks Eastern luxuries.” This comic is about a young man and the silk trade. The character meets up with some Christians in a cave and explains to them how he follows the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha). The fall of the Roman empire is mentioned. There is no followup after this story.
  7. From Dark to Dawn – “Gold becomes fuel for the fire in a continent-spanning clash of civilizations.” This story also starts with a “billions of years ago” scenario of how meteorites brought gold to our planet. It then skips up to 1094 C.E. to an Arab nomad searching for gold -who, when he finds it, cries out “Praise Allah!”. It then jumps over to some Vikings trading for gold. After a bit of bloodshed due to an unfair trade you see them heading to Rome calling Muslims “heathens”. They go to the Vatican and the story shifts to the beginning of the crusades.

Each story is written and illustrated by a different panel of individuals – so they all have their own style and feel. After the stories there is a short bit about the art in the book and how it was created. I didn’t think the art for the book was stunning, but it wasn’t bad either. I personally liked the last two story’s art the best for the balance of color and how the individual characters were drawn.

The book seems as if it was designed for students and not adults. I’d hand this over to a 10 year old with just a few minor issues.  MANKIND: The Story of All of Us is pretty simplified with a minimum of text and context and skims over some a few of the major events of history that were easy to get through and understand. Younger readers will probably need a bit more back story to truly understand some of the context. However, this graphic history book might whet their appetite to find out more. I think reluctant readers might especially like it as it may make history a bit more accessible to them.

I don’t think the book did a great job of making the individual characters memorable. After reading each story, I just didn’t care much about any of them. Perhaps it would be different for a student. Instead of a dry textbook s/he can see history vividly illustrated and come alive as only a graphic novel can present it.  As an adult I didn’t learn anything new. A student would probably easily retain the few memorable concepts such as how iron was important or where we got our modern day marathons from.

As a Christian, I didn’t like the presentation of story #5 at all because I felt it didn’t accurately represent my religion and the Biblical account. It felt like…”well, we can’t leave out the story of Jesus because it was such a big part of early history, but let’s just water it down and change things a little.” Of course the purpose of the book was not to proselytize or represent any single religion as “truth” (although Buddhism seems to be presented in a positive light), so I can’t really complain. 😉 It’s clearly a secular presentation of a religious event.

As for other appropriateness: there is a bit of cleavage shown in one illustration on page 42 and plenty of battle scenes – some with blood, knives flashing, etc. but nothing too graphic or gory. There is also mention of a “black mass” performed on the naked body of a princess in story 7 on page 110.

If you are looking for a graphic novel to introduce history to your students, this is an O.K. overview for those of you studying early history. Just be sure to be on hand to discuss it so your students can have a deeper understanding of the different events. If you are a conservative Christian you may not like all the references to billions of years (if you are a young-earther) and the way the beginnings of Christianity was presented.

I give it 3 1/2 to 4 stars for the intended, secular audience. I give it 2 stars for my own family. I won’t be including this in my history curriculum but recommend it to those who want a graphic supplement to their history studies or just some light reading if the above mentioned minor concerns are not  a problem for your family.

Here are a few screenshots:

This is how the book deals with Christ’s death.

A bit of cleavage… this is about as s*xual as the book gets illustration wise

Intro to Buddhist teachings…

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