This biography covers Einstein’s life, with a focus on his years doing research. The book begins with the briefest glimpse at his childhood, when he receives a compass from his father, a captivating gift. The compass returns repeatedly throughout the story, symbolizing both his curiosity and passion for learning more about the unknown and his commitment to following his moral compass as a pacifist through two World Wars. Einstein’s story is told through a series of reflective framing conversations: chatting with his mentee, lecturing to students, and confiding in his girlfriend, Johanna Fantova. The frame story approach occasionally means that some biographical information comes across as heavy-handed. For example, in the beginning of the story, Einstein insists on feeding his mentee dinner, saying that he should not be hungry, clumsily tying this hunger to his criticism of the Nazis for “establish[ing] their authority over a people that were weak and hungry.” While the book does contain a fair amount of dialogue quoted or paraphrased from Einstein, it is generally executed more gracefully.

The story is fairly narration-heavy, given the conversational style. Some scenes depicting Einstein working on his theories can be fairly dense, with text that’s hard to follow both visually and conceptually. While it is not necessary to have substantial knowledge of physics in order to appreciate the story, a few pages may need to be re-read in order to follow Einstein’s thinking and his discoveries. The book has plenty of footnotes to contextualize the names of important historical figures, events, and theoretical concepts, which helps convey their significance without slowing down the story too much.

This text-heavy approach is seemingly balanced by the relative simplicity of the art. The art is a realistic style and uses shading in primarily one shade of light gray, which makes the art look flat and feel somewhat sparse and unfinished. However, most of the panels contain fully illustrated backgrounds, which saves it from looking too cartoonish. Some panels are drawn without borders—rather than a full panel, the person and their speech bubbles float against a plain white background, creating added weight to these words. While this technique is used sparingly, it’s not always employed in the most effective manner; ”Of course, Mark, if it will help you,” is a far cry from “The Nazis are going to take power and by then it will be too late.” The most striking pages in the book depict the mushroom clouds of each atomic bomb, with small panels along the bottom showing their destruction. These pages are incredibly visually effective, carrying the weight and devastation of the bombs while also conveying the appropriate silence.

Philosophy and ethics were integral to Einstein’s work and mindset. The excitement he displays when working on the theory of general relativity vanishes with the development of the atomic bomb. While Einstein was not directly involved with the Manhattan Project, he signed a letter to President Roosevelt encouraging nuclear research, fearing that the Nazis may be the first to harness its horrors. In one of his more harrowing quotes, Einstein says, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” This book provides an overview of Einstein’s life while grappling with some incredibly heavy themes. A detailed timeline, bibliography, and selected quotes follow the story for readers wishing to learn more about Einstein’s life.

In regards to content warnings, there are brief depictions of the following: anti-Semitic violence, a Holocaust mass grave, war, and bodies burned by the atomic bombs. The book contains a lot of heavy topics, though the art does not focus nor unnecessarily linger on the violence.

Albert Einstein: The Poetry of Real
By Marwan Kahil
Art by Manuel Garcia Iglesias
ISBN: 9781681122021
NBM, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

  • Maria Aghazarian

    Past Reviewer

    Maria Aghazarian is a librarian at Swarthmore College and the Lower Merion library system, in the stretch of southeastern Pennsylvania otherwise known as the “greater Philadelphia area.” Her love of graphic novels started with manga in middle school, but exploded after graduating college when she learned that superheroes aren’t the be-all and end-all of comics. She aims to support small and independent presses, and manufacturers of sturdy bookcases.

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