*Suspended in Language — Recommended

Subtitled Niels Bohr’s Life, Discoveries, and the Century He Shaped, Suspended in Language has art by Leland Purvis, with additional work by Jay Hosler, Roger Langridge, Steve Leialoha, Linda Medley, and Jeff Parker.

Suspended in Language cover
Suspended in Language
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As Bohr was finishing college, physics was entering a revolutionary state. Einstein and Planck had introduced relativity and the idea that measurement couldn’t be exact. Building on their foundation, Bohr used his invention of quantum mechanics to improve the classical model of the atom. He became a leader in theoretical physics, with just about every Nobel Prize winner coming to his institute. Later in life, he moved into political work, helping intellectual refugees on the eve of World War II and using his celebrity to argue for arms control after development of the atomic bomb.

Leland Purvis’ distinctively thick line is well-suited for a biography, since it foregrounds the figures in a panel, drawing the reader’s eye to them. The visuals and text combine in such a way that it’s difficult to separate the two, unusual for a book with separate writer and artist. For example, early on, the political state of Bohr’s homeland of Denmark is explained through the visual metaphor of Hamlet followed by a towering Queen Victoria hiding childish figures of FDR, Churchill, and others under her skirts. (They were young then, not yet adults ready to take their place on the world stage.)

Throughout, there’s a playful tone, with noted physicists as characters who talk to the reader when needed. This approach suits Bohr’s character, as a writer who loved language and argument, and the theories he was essential in developing. Just as a physicist can’t observe an experiment without affecting it, one can’t read this book without being affected.

The idea that one can’t know everything was a radical revision that spread from science throughout culture, and the book’s reader similarly needs to acknowledge that they can’t understand everything. All these ideas are brought together in a sequence near the end that incorporates the reader into the space/time of Bohr’s life.

The GT Labs website has more information, including preview pages. A physicist reviews Suspended in Language. Jim Ottaviani previously wrote Fallout.

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5 Responses to “*Suspended in Language — Recommended”

  1. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] There are notes at the end of the book telling which elements of the story are factual and which fictional, with more in the former category than you might expect. The GT Labs website has more information, including preview pages. Jim Ottaviani’s previous book was Suspended in Language. [...]

  2. Sci-Fi Zombie Cats » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Ottaviani, writer of true science graphic novels such as Wire Mothers, Suspended in Language, and Levitation, has a new Sunday comic strip appearing at [...]

  3. Tomorrow’s Comics Today: May Previews for Books Shipping July 2009 or Later » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] you haven’t read it before, be sure to check out Jim Ottaviani’s Suspended in Language (GT Labs), a true-science graphic biography of Niels Bohr, the father of quantum mechanics. The art [...]

  4. The Stuff of Life » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] like true science comics, like the works by Jay Hosler or written by Jim Ottaviani or the Manga Guides to various fields. The Stuff of Life [...]

  5. “Imitation Game” Biography of Alan Turing Online » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] with Suspended in Language, the story of Niels Bohr, this one is illustrated by Leland Purvis. I thought the story was […]

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