See if you can handle Jim Ottaviani’s Graphic Biographies of Scientists.

My level is Primates.

Jim Ottaviani had been writing science comics/graphic novels since the mid 90’s, starting by self publishing his own work. 

His work is in graphic form, but I can tell you, they are not necessarily easy reads because he addresses very complex material.  I made it about halfway through his book Hawking…even in comic book form, theoretical physics is not easy!  If this stuff is so hard in comic form, just imagine how difficult it is in normal nonfiction…I’ll take the comics!


Sustained Read

I moved on to his book Primates, which is a bit more on my level. According to the cataloging at my library, Primates is considered a kids’ book while Hawking is considered adult.    Primates is a fairly quick read, but I enjoyed it.  What I like about Ottaviani’s work is that he manages to do three things well, all at the same time:

1. He takes disparate events and links them together into a compelling, integrated narrative.

2. He explains the science well, but in an understandable way.

3. He documents his sources appropriately.


Short Read

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas

It’s not that easy to explain complex concepts clearly, and then do to it while still telling the story well is quite an accomplishment.  If he had done the first two things well but failed to document his work, I couldn’t recommend this book.  I actually would have considered the whole thing a waste of my time because how can I know what to believe?  

The end of Primates has a two page “Afterword” where Ottaviani explains his method and links it to the bibliography on the next page.  Ottaviani’s method is perfect for the medium he writes in and the projected age group. 

The same is true for Hawking: there is a note at the end explaining methods along with a 3 page bibliography and a couple of short notes to the reader.  

When I look at the photos of these women, I feel like I see people who spent their lives doing something that is meaningful to them AND leaves a lasting contribution behind. Their choices may seem weird to some of us, even limiting, but that’s what makes it great, and that is the take away for me: figure out your crazy, and be as crazy about it as possible.

Another thing I liked about the story Primates is that we find out both about the accomplishments of these three women and how their missions were both the same and different…and what is different about them.  I’ve always thought the point of biography is to think about why the peoples’ lives are important: what were their values?  What were their goals? How did they accomplish them?  To put it into literary terms, what does the author of the biography show the person’s life to have meant?  What is the theme? 

Another thing that Ottaviani does well in this book is distinguish between three women who worked at around the same time, in similar fields, and even started with the same mentor.  He helps the reader understand how their work, the contributions, and their lives are unique.  I also kind of like that he adds a bit about their personal lives.  When you are doing work that involves long periods of time in remote areas, I suppose it’s essential…these aren’t 9-5 jobs…but particularly when writing about women, including personal lives shows girls (and boys) that women should not be expected to make a choice between the two any more than men are.  It’s an important message. 

In a surprising move for a book written for children, he even alludes to Louis Leakey’s apparent interest in women not his wife and shows us a bit of the tension there.  He keeps this aspect of the story low-key so that probably many children won’t notice it, or if they do, it can be fairly easily explained without taking away the poor child’s innocence, but it’s part of the story, and it’s there.

 The Lois Level is intended for adult readers, so the books recommended here, if they aren’t intended for adults, are ALL enjoyable for adults, and this book fits the bill.  It’s a great Short Read.




More by Jim Ottaviani

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded

I found The Imitation Game more accessible than Hawking. Although I didn’t completely get the mathematics, it certainly is an important story about how we treat people.

I definitely would have gotten even more if I had delved into the mathematics and been able to discuss them with someone.

Short Read

Free Read

Click here for the FULL TEXT of The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded from Tor Magazine! Yes, the entire thing is here (and it’s legal).

Dignifying Science

Dignifying Science is an outstanding text from Ottaviani’s back list focusing on a range of female scientists.

If you get the older version of this book, Dignifying Science, it looks a lot more low-tech than that update. This book definitely had lower production values than Ottaviani’s new books, but the stories within, which all have different illustrators, are interesting “teasers” of the lives of different female scientists that focus on the struggles they faced.

Puddle Jumper

Cover Photos

Biruté Galdikas Simon Fraser University - University Communications / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Biruté Galdikas

Simon Fraser University – University Communications / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Jane Goodall Muhammad Mahdi Karim [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or FAL]

Jane Goodall

Muhammad Mahdi Karim [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or FAL]

Dian Fossey http://episodeinfo.com/tvshows/?p=784

Dian Fossey