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The Cartoon History of the Universe is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.

Written and drawn by Larry Gonick over thirty years, this series of non-fictional graphic novels is basically a humorous Cliff's Notes of history in comic book format. The first volume begins with the Big Bang, and subsequent volumes cover the evolution of life on Earth, the dawn of man, and into early human history. Volume 19 covers up to the Renaissance, after which the series changes its name to The Cartoon History of the Modern World. The final volume, published in 2009, reaches up to 2008.


  • The Abridged History: Downplayed. Although it does go quite a bit into actual history and facts and dates, the panels and commentary are drawn in a way that is meant to be both humorous and educational.
  • Activist-Fundamentalist Antics: There's a minor running gag of groups the early Muslims failed to convert dealing with missionaries making exactly the wrong pitch. Examples include trying to present monotheism as novel to Jews, pushing their own idea of modest dress in Ghana where it's extremely impractical, and promoting male dominance to a female ruler.
  • Adaptational Consent: The Biblical story of David and Bathsheba leaves a question mark over whether Bathsheba truly consented to the affair. Here, it's all but stated that Bathsheba was deliberately trying to seduce him, so this version of the story has no such potential for dubcon.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: While King David deliberately getting Uriah killed in battle after impregnating the man's wife Bathsheba so they can be together is straight out of the Bible, he comes off as somewhat worse here. The comic omits David's initial plan to have the baby passed off as Uriah's by calling him home in the hopes that he would sleep with Bathsheba, instead having him skip right to having Joab arrange his death. David's remorse after being scolded by the prophet Nathan also gets left out.
  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: Gonick comments on this, observing that the term "caveman" is not wholly accurate, as many Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon communities lived in tents and other man-made shelters. The term "caveman" came from the fact that caves tend to preserve fossils better, so more fossils of primitive tribes are located in caves.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: Discussed in the sections covering the invention of laws and legal systems. He takes particular aim at Han Feizi and the Chinese Legalists, who advocated this policy, showing exactly how well it worked for the Qin Dynasty (it led directly to their destruction).
  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Averted, but frequently joked about, particularly through the use of Yiddish as a Second Language:
    • Jews are frequently depicted saying "Oy" in response to various things.
    • Right before nailing Goliath with his sling, David says he's gonna give him a "zetz".
    • When Salome presents her case to Emperor Augustus (whom her brother Herod had made executor of his estate), she called Archelaus (Herod's eldest surviving son) a "schnook" and a "schlemiel," words that would not appear in any language for a good thousand years at least.
  • Ambiguously Bi:
    • There's no doubt King David is attracted to women, but he also has a good deal of Homoerotic Subtext with Saul's son Jonathan...
    • Alexander the Great is a case where it's the heterosexual side that's in question. He's depicted as in love with Hephaestion, one of his generals, but he also marries a few women and fathers at least one child. Whether this is to show he's attracted to women as well or just meant to be him fulfilling his dynastic obligations is left deliberately unclear.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Saul's son Jonathan is heavily implied to have some kind of romantic entanglement with David, but unlike with some other cases of homosexuality, there's nothing explicit.
  • Anachronism Stew: Frequently used for comedy. One common form this takes is the use of Yiddish words and phrases by Jewish characters, even millennia before the Yiddish language existed.
    • During a section discussing stone age technological progress, a caveman is shown carrying a TV set.
    • Joab tells the future King David that he's like the Little John to David's Robin Hood, referencing folk heroes that wouldn't exist for over a thousand years. This is lampshaded when David admits he has no idea what Joab is talking about.
  • Aquatic Sauropods: As it was written at a time when evidence and arguments against the idea of aquatic sauropods were being debated, the first issue alternates between showing sauropods in the water and on land (albeit usually on very muddy ground).
  • Art Evolution: He started in 1978 and finished in 2009, so it's understandable that the art would change at least a little. Particularly interesting are the differences between his depictions of the Professor at the beginning and the end of Part I, and the experimental shift from pen-and-ink to brush-and-ink art in the last section of Part I, reverting to pen-and-ink for the rest of the work.
  • Artistic License: Gonick occasionally takes it, particularly in the artwork, mostly for reasons of Rule of Funny.
  • Author Avatar: Gonick's authorial voice is provided by "the Professor," who uses a library he calls a "time machine" to read history books and imagine the events they describe, showing the reader the events in comic book format. He is represented both in the narration and also appears directly in the events he describes, speaking to historical characters or directly to the reader. The Professor's appearance is obviously based on Albert Einstein.
  • Author Tract: Gonick manages to not rant too much except in occasional circumstances, but his political leanings are pretty much impossible to miss if you're paying attention.
    • Gonick's parents were fans of socialism/communism, and were undoubtedly a little worried during the Joseph McCarthy hearings. Gonick's drawing of Joseph McCarthy as a dark, foreboding individual reflects this.
    • At the end of Volume 1 of Modern World, Gonick asks point blank how historians can be expected to remain impartial and unbiased in the face of the horrific atrocities committed by the Spanish conquistadors against America's natives.
    • Gonick sticks a number of critical references to the administration of George W. Bush in The Cartoon History of the Modern World.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Gonick is quick to point out and highlight the many religious absurdities found throughout history. Explicitly invoked in a brief bit about the Indian materialists; when they say that the supernatural and afterlife are lies keeping the people ignorant and afraid, the ruler angrily points out that he likes them better that way.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved:
    • The process of domestication is summed up as "Men and sheep grew very close."
      Shepherd: (hugging a sheep) Darling!
      Sheep: Wha-a-a-at?
    • Later, in a footnote:
      Chicken: None of that funny stuff with ME, pal!
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Played for laughs. Gonick's avatar gets struck by lightning while speculating on how the ancient Hebrews may have pronounced "YHWH", implicitly because he unknowingly landed on the correct pronunciation.
    The Professor (in a thought bubble) Yahu-wahu?
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Cartoon History of the United States humorously lampshades the common stereotype of anarchists as mad, bearded bombers ("smell like garlic... foreign accent... burning fuse") during the 1880s Red Scare after the Haymarket Bombing.
  • Category Traitor: Parodied early on, where a couple of wolves contemptuously refer to a domestic dog as an "Uncle Tom".
  • Cement Shoes: The prelude to the first volume on Rome has the Professor discussing their famous concrete and cutthroat politics... and promptly gets his foot caught in a bucket of concrete, as Cicero (in his only appearance) teleports in and calls for a swim.
  • Chicken Joke: In the commentary on the origin of language, which soon led to the first jokes, a caveman tells the chicken to joke to another who comments that that's old already.
  • Cosmic Deadline: Pretty much in the end. The last few pages of the final volume has the Professor talking about all the current events happening as the book is being written.
  • Curiosity Causes Conversion: Noted in several instances, but particularly when it comes to the history of Christianity (where it is emphatically Truth in Television). For instance, in one panel, a pagan Roman couple in the arena watch with fascination as a Christian martyr enthusiastically welcomes death by lion ("C'mon! What are you waiting for?"):
    Pagan Man: Man, how do they do that?
    Pagan Woman: Must... find... out...
  • Dated History: There are some parts of these comics that haven't aged well, factually speaking.
    • It's claimed that Neanderthals couldn't articulate many sounds, so they probably used a language consisting of grunts and gesticulation. This hypothesis was based on assumptions about Neanderthal physiology that were later proven incorrect; the current belief is that while Neanderthals probably couldn't produce as many sounds as modern humans, they could still produce enough of them to have a spoken language.
    • Neanderthals being driven to extinction due to conquest and extermination by the Cro-Magnons has been increasingly challenged by archaeological and genetic evidence. While not completely discredited, it's generally believed in the scientific community that it was, at most, one of multiple factors.
    • Speaking of Cro-Magnons, they're universally depicted as having light skin; it's now largely accepted that early European modern humans were almost all dark-skinned until around 30,000 years ago, and many Europeans still had dark skin until around 5,000 years ago.
    • Accounts of a Sumerian ritual where the king would engage in ritual sex with the high priestess of Inanna are presented as unambiguously true, since in the 20th century, historical consensus took these claims at face value. However, the 21st saw the rise of a competing theory, one that claimed the unions were mere embellishments designed to add to the king's image; proponents of this hypothesis point to how those exact same claimed outright impossible feats from these kings, such as them running 200 miles in a single day.
    • The race of the pre-Hellenic Egyptians changes based on what theories are popular at the time — they're depicted as black in the first five volumes, in contrast to the white Jews and Hyksos (it's presented as a subtle joke that Moses is also black), but then asides in the fifteenth show white ancient Egyptians discussing farming techniques with black West Africans and buying black slaves from black Nubians. It's now believed that they were (mostly) neither white nor black, but Afro-Asiatic like modern Egyptians.
    • On the topic of Thutmose III and his predecessor Hatshepsut, Gonick runs with the then-mainstream theory that Hatshepsut tried to keep Thutmose out of power, leading him to try and erase her from Egyptian history after she died out of revenge when he became pharaoh. This account has been discredited; it's now known that Thutmose held a lot of support in the military and could probably have overthrown Hatshepsut if he wanted to, so it's more likely that the two shared power and may even have been co-rulers. Furthermore, Thutmose kept religious and administrative leaders appointed by Hatshepsut in their positions and had his mortuary temple built next to hers, both of which he was unlikely to have done if he really did have a grudge against her. As for the defacing of her monuments, it's now known to have happened much later than previously thought and is believed to have been done by either a very old Thutmose or his son and coregent Amenhotep II to prevent one of Hatshepsut's relatives from being elevated to the throne.
    • Gonick puts far more stock the historicity of certain Biblical stories than more recent historians (and when it comes to early Christianity, his Author Avatar all but nervously admits that much of its material had to be taken straight from the New Testament due to the paucity of other accounts).
    • It's claimed that the Samaritans were descended from people transported to the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians. This was a popular theory once, but it's since fallen out of favor due to DNA evidence indicating that the Samaritans are actually an offshoot of the Ancient Hebrews.
    • What destroys the Indus Valley Civilization in Volume 8 is brutal invasion and subjugation by the Indo-Aryans, based on a now-discredited theory formulated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Since the supposed evidence of violence has since been ascribed to other factors, it's now believed that changes in climate and a series of earthquakes were responsible for the civilization's decline and eventual collapse.
    • Gonick ascribes more geopolitical importance to the Battle of Talas than 21st century historians generally do, claiming that it marked the end of Chinese hegemony over Central Asia. To his credit, he says Tang influence in the region could have recovered if not for the outbreak of the An Lushan rebellion, but the narrative that the battle marked a turning point is no longer taken seriously since evidence suggests Chinese control there actually increased between the battle and the rebellion.
  • Did the Earth Move for You, Too?: A one-panel gag has two large dinosaurs "necking" saying this while the main narrative discussed continental drift.
  • Doing In the Wizard: The series gives secular accounts of semi-historical events described in such sources as The Bible and The Iliad. For example, rather than say that Aaron parted the Red Sea, it says the Jews ditched the pursuing Egyptians in muddy terrain. This is due to some scholars believing that the parting of the Red Sea is a mistranslation. Other times, however, the comic directly recreates scenes from religious texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, keeping the deities intact.
  • Dramatic Irony: Frequently. For instance, in an apparent fit of pique at Medina's Jewish tribes, Mohammed changes the qibla from Jerusalem to Mecca:
    Rabbi: I think we just made three hundred enemies...
  • Droit du Seigneur: Referenced the story of the Ethiopian general Abraham the Split-Face, so named due to his taking an axe blade in the face during a duel. His servant saved him during the duel and helped him kill the other duelist, and Abraham offered to reward the servant anything he desired. When the servant demanded that he be allowed to exercise the Lord's Right, Abraham reluctantly agreed. However, after an irate husband murdered the servant, Abraham let the killer off and apologized for his servant's actions.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: One of the Israelites forcibly transported by the Assyrians quips that "it's just like the Exodus all over again!" Another responds with "that's not funny!"
  • Dumb Dinos: The dinosaurs come off as dim-witted bullies who deliberately step on, intimidate, and kick around the mammals.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Lykurgos from Spartan history/legend, described as "great and mysterious", is drawn with an eyepatch.
  • Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: When describing how Egypt was merciful towards their conquered foes by educating them in Egyptian ways, a son asks his father to marry his sister (since Egyptian royalty practiced interbreeding to keep the bloodline "pure"). The father promptly thinks "You call this mercy?"
  • Footnote Fever: Frequently. Sometimes even headered by an icon of a foot drawing an asterisk.
  • Foreign-Looking Font: In the end of the first volume and the title page for the volume on early Indian history, the title is written in a pseudo-Devanagari font.
  • The Ghost: The Prophet Muhammad and certain other figures from early Muslim history, out of respect for mainstream Islam's prohibition on visual representations of them. This decision was made well before the international Mohammed cartoon controversy. The one main figure in that section he does show, Abu Sufyan, tells the reader that he never really bought the religion and doesn't actually care if he's shown.
  • Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!: In Part III, in the bit about the Zanj Rebellion. "Zanj" was a term for East African slaves (bought from their native rulers in what is now Kenya and Tanzania) who were employed in southern Iraq's production of sugarcane. They rose in revolt against the Arab, Persian, and Turkish rulers of the Abbasid Caliphate, and (as Gonick notes) fought ferociously for their freedom (primarily because the alternative was death). It's specifically brought up in an exchange between a Zanj and an Arab soldier where the former can settle for either his death or his foe's.
    Zanj army: LIBERTY OR DEATH!
    Frightened-looking Arab soldier: You lack sophistication, my dear fellow! Have you ever thought of the idea that no man is ever completely free?
    Zanj soldier: But completely dead, yes!
  • Godiva Hair: The Hebrew prophet Samuel is depicted with a beard that completely engulfs his implied-naked body.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Discussed Trope, on how ancient Indian philosophers got in touch with the universe:
    [They] did it the old-fashioned way: with drugs.
  • Historical Domain Character: With the exception of Gonick's own avatar, all characters in the books are either historical individuals or figures from myth and religious texts.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Subtly played up between David and Jonathan; David, returning with two hundred foreskins, quips "I'll take two of 'em," then, when he flees, Jonathan and Michal are seen as nigh-identical crying silhouettes, and Saul exclaims "my son the pervert!" on hearing the news.
  • Hot Guy, Ugly Wife: Zipporah is portrayed as being much less attractive than Moses.
  • Idea Bulb: Lampshaded. A caveman having a brilliant idea has a light bulb appear above his head. When he reveals the flint knife he's created, another caveman says "Oh, I thought it was going to be a light bulb."
  • The Internet Is for Porn: Alluded to in a footnote in Cartoon History of the Modern World: Volume II, the narrator mentions that the birth control pill was the greatest invention of the 20th century, prompting two characters in bed to say:
    Woman: Greater than the Internet?
    Man: Sex can make me forget about the Internet, but the Internet can't make me forget about sex!
  • Inventing the Wheel: The inventor of the wheel shows it to his friend, expectantly saying "Well?" His friend says "A tray with a hole? Maybe you should see the spiritual adviser..." Gonick also observes that the earliest wheels were more likely used for making pottery.
  • Jesus Taboo: Most Biblical figures are referred to by their most common English names ("John" rather than "Yohanan," for instance) — except for Jesus and Yahweh/Jehovah, invariably rendered as "Yeshua" and "Yahu-Wahu". "Yahu-Wahu" is part of a running gag; in the intro for the section that deals with Biblical times, the Professor says that they don't know the Jewish God's real name, just the consonants YHWH, and that it was eventually declared that anyone who said it would be struck by lightning. The Historian remarks that it could be anything, even "Yahu-Wahu" — at which point he gets zapped. Thereafter, Gonick uses "Yahu" whenever he mentions the Jewish God.
  • Jesus Was Crazy: Jesus is depicted as woozy after being "baptized" and held under water too long. In another section he alternates (panel by panel) between thoughtful scholar, mystical parable-speaker, and fiery ranting preacher.
  • Jewish Mother: Referenced in the bit on the semi-legendary Jewish Queen Judith of Ethiopia:
    Judith: (crying and with her hands in the air) Why don't you win more often? Don't you care about me?
    Ethiopian soldier: God, I feel so guilty...
  • Judgment of Solomon: Larry Gonick views this through the "political allegory" interpretation, where Solomon was using it as a way of telling Israel to accept his weaker claim to kingship over his brother's to avoid tearing the country apart in war.
  • Kangaroo Pouch Ride: In the section about the spread of Cro-Magnons throughout the world, the map shows a woman riding in a kangaroo's pouch in Australia. The kangaroo looks a bit puzzled about this.
  • Kilroy Was Here: A Greek mercenary is shown leaving his name on an Egyptian building, which is a documented historical artifact.
  • Language Equals Thought: Lampshaded when the narrative mentions how Romans decimated (i.e., killed every tenth person — though in actual Roman times this was reserved for executing disobedient military units, but Rule of Funny reigns in this case) Athens.
    Woman in conquered Greece: How many languages even have a word for “killed every 10th person”?
  • Last-Second Word Swap: From the part about Admiral Zheng He (the eunuch admiral).
    Local ruler: Submit to China! He's got a lot of—
    Chinese messenger: Nerve, he has a lot of nerve.
  • Laugh with Me!: Caligula, in a scene based on Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars, bursts into hysterical laughter at a banquet. When a guest asks him why, the emperor says it just occurred to him that with a single word he could have the guest's throat slit. He resumes laughing, pausing briefly to say "You laugh too." The guest complies with a nervous chuckle.
  • Mark of Shame: When not enough citizens appeared for Athenian civic duties, state-owned slaves would pull them in with ropes dipped in red paint. The resulting "vermillion stripe" was considered deeply embarrasing.
    Athenian passerby: What's the matter, Euphronion? Slave put his brand on you?
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Elijah against the Baal priests, courteously even spraying his sacrifice with water. Which he somehow obtained in the middle of a drought and may not actually be water, as a bystander notes.
  • Mistaken for Incest: Then-contemporary gossip suggested that the ancient Athenian politician Kimon wouldn't let his sister Elpinike marry because he had an incestuous desire for (and possibly affair with) her. In reality, it was because their father Miltiades died owing the Athenian government a large fine, leaving his family rich in land but little else; there was no dowry for Elpinike, and since a dowry was a necessity for marriage in Ancient Athens, she couldn't get married until a wealthy man agreed to pay off the debt in exchange for her hand in marriage. This is punctuated by a two-panel sequence of Kimon telling Elpinike "I need you, sister... I need you to get me money."
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Covered during the life of the actual Moses.
  • Mouthful of Pi: Discussed in a footnote. Gonick believes that the accuracy of Pi is a pretty good indicator of a civilization's general mathematical and scientific ability. He then goes on to point out that The Bible specifies that the dimensions of the bronze basin for the Temple should be ten cubits across and thirty around, putting the value of Pi at exactly three.
    Solomon: And now you know why I hired outside contractors as the architects!
  • Murder Simulators: Parodied in a section about the invention of chess. A mother watches her child capture a rook and laments, "These action games are ruining our youth!"
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: While the comic usually makes up dialogue due to Rule of Funny, occasionally a quote will come with a disclaimer of "Someone actually said this!" Parodied in the section on the Persian wars, where he insists he didn't make up the dialog; Herodotus made up the dialog.
  • Not Me This Time: Many of Alcibiades' misdeeds are covered in the book, but the narrative goes with the theory that he had nothing to do with the mutilation of the hermae that he was historically accused of.
  • Oh, Crap!: Quite a few of these moments, for example:
    • Egyptian laborers have this reaction when they see the Hyksos.
    • Xerxes when his fleet gets smashed at Salamis.
  • One Thing Led to Another: This phrase is used in explaining the origins of sexual intercourse.
  • Pet the Dog: Discussed Trope, where the author points out that in the days before diplomacy, everybody was tender to their own people while at the same time callously brutal to everyone else.
    Dorian Chief: (doting over his wife while being surrounded by piles of corpses, and carrying a spear upon which is impaled the body of a BABY) Oh, did you cut your finger, dear?
  • Political Overcorrectness: Parodied with the etymology of the word slave (derived from Slav).
    Academic 1: People were so insensitive back then!
    Academic 2: Yes, couldn't they have called them "unfree persons of Slavic descent"?
  • Pyramid Power: The chapter on Ancient Egypt briefly mentions the concept of pyramids being built using alien knowledge, with an alien asking "Why build a pyramid when you can sharpen a razor blade in five minutes on a wet rock?"
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Aside from the Trope Namer appearing during the segment on Rome, this is how Liu Bang's triumph in the Qin civil war is portrayed. He defeated Xiang Yu, became Emperor, and formed a new, succesful dynasty, but his wife and concubines are at each other's throats, his children despise him, and his realm is becoming increasingly unstable. He himself lampshades this shortly before his death, wondering if becoming Emperor was worth it in the end.
  • Running Gag: Many different characters and organizations get running gags about them.
    • Moses as the slightly-embarrassed-to-be-Hebrew half-Egyptian aristocrat.
    • Alcibiades being a hedonist.
    • Xiang Yu's (impressive) voice.
    • The Gauls are consistently portrayed like the Gauls of Asterix.
    • The ghost of Abu Sufyan showing up whenever a member of the Muslim Umayyad dynasty is featured (as an aside, this makes him the longest-running character in the work!).
    • Muslim missionaries making exactly the wrong pitch to potential converts, such as depicting monotheism as a novel concept to the Jews, arguing for modesty of dress in Ghana (where dressing less was an asset), and proposing for the sequestration of women (not really a Muslim doctrine, but it had become part of the package by that time) to a woman ruler.
    • Central Asian nomads' (adversarial) relationship with vegetables.
    • Almost all civilizations' aversion to bathing.
    • Drawing Robert Guiscard, a Norman lord famed for his conquests in Italy, as a weasel ("Guiscard" means "weasel" in French).
    • Drawing Helen of Troy and her sister Clytemnestra as ducks. Their mother was said to have mated with a swan, but ducks are funnier.
    • Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire in India, is portrayed as a stoner with buck teeth: a stoner, because he is said to have liked a kind of cannabis candy, and buckteeth because his name is hypothesized to mean "beaver."
    • "Merrie" England and the gleeful use of Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe.
    • Ethan Allen was additionally known for being able to throw a bag of salt over his shoulder with his teeth - in every image of him he has a bag of salt pinched in his teeth.
    • The "Northern Barbarians" (complete with tribal-esque headdresses and ominous drums), which bedeviled the Chinese for most of their history.
    • "OOPS!", for when an unintended consequence of a decision (or series of decisions) lead to disaster
    • The Byzantine Empire had a policy of gouging out the eyes of incompetent or otherwise failed Emperors, claiming it to be more "civilized" than simply executing them. Naturally, given the history of the Empire, Gonick has a field day with this concept.
  • Russian Bear: Russia in the late 19th century is shown as a menacing bear from the Japanese point of view.
  • Russian Reversal: Subtly done in Volume 7. An Athenian man who was forcibly pulled in for jury duty by a state-owned Scythian slave is taunted for the stripe left on his clothes by the paint-dipped rope the slave used to drag him along, with one man rhetorically asking if a slave put his brand on him. Remember that Scythian territory included part of what is now Russia...
  • Screaming Warrior: Xiang Yu is portrayed as such, only speaking coherently on select occasions. His skill as a general is jokingly credited to his yelling ability.
  • Shout-Out: Several. One that stands out is the Gaulish sack of Rome in Volume II, which shamelessly uses shout-outs to Asterix (it even ends with "Our work is done here, Asterix! Let's go get our own comic book!!")
  • Shown Their Work: The series is a non-fictional summary of history, so it all falls under this trope. Each compendium provides a bibliography with encouragement by the author to check out his sources for further study. They are every bit as fun to read as the books themselves.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Martin Luther is portrayed as being very foul mouthed in his sermons, which is actually true to history!
  • Slave Mooks: The Ancient Athenian police were made up of Scythian archers owned by the state. One of their duties was pulling citizens in for civic chores on days when not enough showed up to carry them out.
  • Speech Impediment: Alcibiades has a rather strong lisp. This is Truth in Television.
  • Spell My Name With An S: The chapters on China in the second book are hit hard by this, since at the time, Asian history and philosophy were much more esoteric in the US, so romanizations are touch-and-go. The spellings he went with are generally the phonetic ones, i.e. using Chin over Qin.
  • Starfish Aliens: Sometimes, aliens appear in the book. When they do, they're usually portrayed in this way.
  • Take That!: Gonick takes a shot at people who try to come up with "naturalistic" explanations for Old Testament accounts of miracles, openly referring to them as "nuts". Immanuel Velikovsky and his bizarre theories are singled out by name, probably due to him being a prominent and controversial figure at the time.
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Offering scraps is how the proto-humans got the first proto-dogs to hang around (and, implied in the dialogue, to eat the scraps instead of people).
  • Tasty Gold: Mentioned in the leadup to Archimedes' famous discovery: the king needed a way to determine whether his crowns were counterfeit without having to rely on biting them, since they were getting bent out of shape.
  • Villain Has a Point: Salome, Herod the Great's sister, uses some very underhanded and even malicious tactics to try and maneuver one of her sons into becoming King of the Jews. However, when she insists to Augustus that putting Archelaus on the throne would be a bad idea, she turns out to be right: his rule is plagued by controversy and unrest, forcing Augustus to depose him and impose direct Roman rule over his territory.
  • Visual Pun: Footnotes have a picture of a foot drawing an asterisk.
  • What's a Henway?: When King Solomon meets Hiram, king of the "sophisticated seaport" of Tyre, the latter responds to the former's inquiry as to whether he's Hiram with a crack about how he hires 'em and fires 'em too.
    Solomon: You Hiram?
    Hiram: And I fire 'em! Haw haw haw!
    Solomon: Did someone say "sophisticated"?
  • Who's on First?: Parodied, when mentioning that ancient Hindus composed a poem to the great god "Who".
  • Women's Mysteries Parodied. In a sequence depicting the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution (which women are widely thought to have initiated), an exhausted woman farmer tells a man the women could use some help and asks if he'd like a job. He covers his ears and says, "Silence! These mysteries are not for the ears of men."
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Gonick has a field day with this in the sections on 16th- and 17th-century England.
  • You Can't Make an Omelette...: This line is "You can't make a country without breaking a few eggheads," spoken by the Chinese Communists in an aside about how Qin Shi Huangdi (a tyrannical historic ruler) is a role model for the current government.