Review | ‘Department of Mind-Blowing Theories’ by Tom Gauld

I have a confession to make: I broke my self-imposed rule of not buying books and bought this book, but it was a gift, so I feel it still doesn’t count. Quite conveniently, it was a gift to someone I happen to share a house with, and so here we are with a review of Department of Mindblowing Theories.

This little volume is a collection of comic strips Tom Gauld wrote for New Scientist so, unsurprisingly, they are all science themed. Gauld does tend to focus predominantly on STEM/hard science, with a penchant for futuristic engineering and physiscs, but he also dips his toes into other disciplines, like geology, astronomy, zoology and even philosophy (although I wouldn’t consider that a science). Some cartoons are theme-specific, some poke fun at the scientific community more generally, but they are all very approachable and have the unique characteristic of making you feel immensely clever, which is always appreciated.

Fun fact: from reading Gauld’s strips he tends to come across as an incredibly cultured man, a fountain of knowledge in a variety of fields, from quantum physics to 1800th century literature. Last year, I had the fortune of attending an event where he presented his work (an announced this book!) and one of the questions from the mediator was how he knew so much about so many different aspects of science and culture. He responded, quite candidly, that he didn’t. He’d have an idea for a comic strip and then research it on Google, until he found the information he was looking for. I really do respect him for being so honest about this and proving that he is also a human being who sometimes wings it and hopes for the best. We’ve all been there, Tom.

The volume is extemely well curated, so much so that we are using it as a coffee table book (currently the only people visiting our house are, well, us, but, ehm… eventually). The spine is clothbound and every bit of text within the book has been hand-lettered by Gauld himself (another fun fact: he has a computer font he made from his handwriting, how clever is that!). It’s a neat little thing that I find myself leafing through every know and then just to have a bit of a chuckle.

The book came out in April and I think it might have suffered from the whole global situation/current crisis/pandemic/whatchamacallit, because I didn’t see it advertised that much. It’s a shame, since Gauld is a brilliant author and this is a funny and cheerful little volume that could brighten up many people’s days. It also seems incredibly fitting for the moment as Gaul’d humour pokes fun at science and the scientific community, but without ever discrediting it. On the contrary, it highlights the rigour and dedication that goes into pursuing a career in academia, especially in the science field.

I absolutely loved this collection and would recommend it to both Tom Gauld’s fans and readers who haven’t read anything of his before. It’s also a great gift idea for anyone who loves science (ahem!). If you want to read more, I’ve also reviewed MoonCop and Goliath by Gauld in my #GraphicNovelMarch post last year, and pitched the translation of Goliath into Italian in my first TransPitch post.

This is M signing out for now!

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