80 Famous People – Isaac Newton

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Isaac Newton was born small, reportedly able to fit in a quart mug at age three. His father died before he was born and his mother remarried when he was three, passing Isaac on to his grandmother to care for him. He was an introvert and was bullied at school. Although there is an indication that he was engaged at one point, the wiki entry provides no details as to who his partner was. The only things he enjoyed as a child were studying and doing woodworking.

Oh yeah, and he did some science stuff, or something.

The intro story has Youchi quarreling with Mami. Mohea asks why, and Merrino explains that Mami had been making a bead necklace for him when Youichi ran into the room and accidentally destroyed it. He refuses to apologize, so the fighting escalates. Mohea suggests using a Sheep Planet device, which Merrino interprets to be the planet-destroying bomb. Mohea corrects her little brother, pulling out the anti-gravity machine and turning it on. Everything starts to float, and gravitate to whatever is closest to it, so that Mami and Youichi are stuck against each other. Angrily, Youchi grabs the machine and tries to find the off button, but manages to break the thing and everything in the room starts getting pulled into a small ball. In the wrap-up, the butler, Angora, throws the emergency off switch, and Mami falls to the floor from a great height. Youichi reacts by throwing a pillow under her to break the impact. They apologize to each other, and Merrino asks them to get off him – he’d been attached to the pillow when Youichi threw it.

This time, the main artist is Nodoka Kiyose (Final Fantasy VII dj – Future, Final Fantasy XI: Lands End, Koukaku no Regios: Missing Mail). The main manga is pure shlock. It’s historical fiction told as a school-girl romance. The lead character is a girl named Ann Story, age 10 (loosely based on Isaac’s niece Catherine Barton?) Ann’s mother tells her that the son of her friend wants to study at the school in Grantham, and will be staying in their house during that time. Ann fantasizes about falling in love with a big stud, and is disappointed in seeing the dark, brooding 12-year-old wimp that arrives at the door. However, Newton perks up when alone in his room, plotting out the path of the sunlight on the wall to make a big sun dial. Ann finds herself attracted to this side of the inquisitive boy, and he responds by building jewelry boxes and a self-powered wooden car for her. When the local gang of bullies picks on him and destroys his inventions, Ann vows to protect him for life and they promise to get married when the time is right. Unfortunately, he withdraws again and Ann is afraid of losing him. She tries to confront the bullies, unsuccessfully, but Isaac sees this and develops a backbone – beating up all three boys at once. Eventually, though, Ann realizes that there’s no room for her in Newton’s rarefied world of pure thought, as he watches an apple fall from a tree, leading to the theory of gravitation, and when he uses a prism in college to determine that sun light is made up of individual beams of 7 colors. Finally, she decides to get married to someone else, but she’s so thrilled at reading about his discoveries that she promises to keep writing Isaac lots of letters.

The textbook section spends some time describing Newton’s upbringing and education, emphasizing his small stature and introverted nature. There’s no mention of “Ann Story”, but the book does say that he was living in the home of a pharmacist in Grantham from age 12, and that he spent a lot of time learning how to measure out the different medicines as a part-time job. There are various paintings of Newton and his inventions (primarily his telescope and a wooden bridge made entirely without nails or bolts), discussions of his Principia Mathematica and his work on optics, a sidebar on Edmond Halley and his comet, and mentions of some of the people Newton had feuds with. The last 2 pages provide overviews of four of the forces Newton tried to tackle – the Coriolis effect, buoyancy, centrifugal force, and tidal forces caused by the moon’s pull on the earth’s bodies of water. Plus, there’s the two postcards.

From a historical viewpoint, the creation of “Ann Story” to introduce an observer to be present at several of Newton’s discoveries is pure fabrication. Newton was apparently engaged when he was younger, but the few references I looked at don’t mention a name. He never married, but was reported by Voltaire to have had a favorite niece – Catherine Barton – who supposedly was the source of the “apple falling from the tree story”. The artwork in this mook is squarely in the shojo (flowery girl’s comics) manga camp and doesn’t come close to resembling Newton or anyone else. If you want a romantic historical fiction romp, this mook is fine. But if you want to learn more about Newton the man and/or his discoveries, keep looking. I do like the textbook part, but the science descriptions are very superficial. Not really recommended.


80 Famous People – Kiyoshi Yamashita

Normally, I’m not interested in illustrators and fine artists, at least not as far as the 80 Famous People series is concerned. If I want to learn about Chopin or Chihiro Iwasaki (and I know that Chopin is a classical composer), I can go to wikipedia. However, if there is something unusual about someone that isn’t a scientist or inventor, I’m going to seriously consider buying that mook. What makes Kiyoshi Yamashita interesting to me is that while he seems to have had a mental disorder, he had created his own form of art using pieces of torn paper that rivals oil brushwork for its level of detail.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used for review purposes only.)

According to the wiki entry, Kiyoshi suffered a stomach disorder at age three that left him with a speech impediment and possible brain damage (maybe as an autistic savant). He was bullied in school in Tokyo, and reportedly pulled a knife on one student, so he was placed in a special needs school in Chiba, where he was introduced to chigiri-e, a Japanese style that uses torn pieces of colored paper and glue. Kiyoshi took the art form even farther, as hari-e, by making the pieces almost impossibly small. At age 18, he ran away from the school and wandered the countryside with only a small backpack, a rice bowl, chopsticks and a yukata (evening shirt). He was found 3 years later, failed the exam for WW II military service and was returned to the school. He then recorded his travels from memory as hari-e, and in a written diary. His life inspired a long-running TV drama, and he was in high demand as an artist. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 49.

This is one of the few cases where the wiki entry is really short and lacks detail. The idea that Kiyoshi was “naked” because he just wore a vest is silly, and there’s no explanation for why he was known as the “naked general”. Instead, he wandered Japan in a yukata, which is a kind of evening robe that some men still wear outdoors at night during the summer when it gets really hot and humid. In fact, Kiyoshi had a habit of referring to cities and towns by military rank – Tokyo being “General”, Osaka “Lieutenant General”, etc. By using military terminology when asking for directions, people started calling him “General”. The “naked” part came from his only wearing the yukata on his travels.

The intro manga starts out with Ken Oogami wrestling with artist’s block, and Merrino suggesting that he put on a white undershirt, take a large rice ball with him, and then wander Japan for inspiration. When Ken decides that this is really what he needs, Merrino whispers that he just did this to be funny. Mami arrives and asks why Merrino is picking on Ken, but the wolf-boy figures that he’ll go on his journey anyway. When he comes back, he shows his sketches of space-alien super heroes in white undershirts to Mami. She is unimpressed.

The main manga is by Yuu Minamoto this time (Kamisama Drop, Samurai Harem, Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi). She’s got a solid understanding of Kiyoshi’s artwork, and does a good job on the backgrounds. The problem is that the human characters are manga-style, and both Kiyoshi and Kase are drawn as kids, while at the time they met they were both adults. Unfortunately, there’s no date specified in the story flashbacks, so we’re left guessing if the flashback was at age 20, or later. In any event, Kiyoshi wasn’t anywhere near as young as Yuu draws him when the fireworks event happened.

(Kase sees “Nakoaka Fireworks” for the first time.)

The story starts out with a department store opening up an exhibit of Kiyoshi’s hari-e pictures. While the attendees are surprised by the level of detail in the artwork, one particular man stands in front of an image of fireworks, called “Nakaoka no Hanabi” (Nakaoka Fireworks) (while the date given for the picture is 1950, Kiyoshi always made his artwork after returning home, so he could have been in Nakoaka closer to 1947, when he was 25). The guy yells out “I met him!” The flashback jumps to Kiyoshi trying to sleep in a train station, and the station master trying to kick him out. Kiyoshi starts walking away along the train tracks, then returns and asks for something to eat. A little later, Kase, a fireworks specialist, is talking to his crew about the new display he’s designed for that evening. He notices a vagrant sitting next to the canisters and yells at him to get away because it’s dangerous. Kiyoshi turns and asks how something that makes such beautiful sky flowers can be dangerous, and Kase shouts that they contain gunpowder. Kiyoshi flashes back to when people were celebrating Japan’s entry into WW II, and how the soldiers used gunpowder for their weapons. He wondered why, if people were so happy to be going to die for their country, that they’d be weeping at the same time. He wrote that if all the gunpowder used to kill people were used instead for fireworks, there’d be no need for war. That night, Kiyoshi sees Kase’s fireworks display, and is transfixed.

Back in 1965, Kase looks at the finished picture and realizes that he’s seeing the image of his fireworks display from that time. A female exhibit attendant comes up to him and mentions that Kiyoshi had also kept a diary and she reads the passage that relates to that picture. Kase comments on how Kiyoshi had captured perfectly his feelings of how that display was supposed to inspire people. He later buys a similar picture made by Kiyoshi, which he still has at his home now. The manga ends with a picture of Kiyoshi walking away from the reader, and the narrator saying that his final words when he died at age 49 were “which fireworks should I go see next?”

The textbook section goes into some details of Kiyoshi’s upbringing, including the illness at age 3 that left him with a stutter, the family’s house burning down during the Great Kanto earthquake in 1925, his father dying when he was 9, his being bullied and and placed in the Yawata school. At age 14, he started gaining attention for his hari-e pictures, and he was already in exhibitions when he ran away at age 18. He’d thought he could make a living on the road, but illness and severe cold weather forced him to try to find his mother’s house. He went on long journey’s repeatedly after that, and at one point, his younger brother found him in Kagoshima (where I live) and returned home with him again. An American newspaper wanted to write an article on him, but no one knew where he was, which led the reporter to enlist the public for help. Eventually, he was taken on a 40-day tour of Europe, and he created images of London Bridge and the Eiffel Tower afterward. At age 49, he fell ill and died a couple months later.

Sidebars illustrate several of his pieces, both hari-e and pen on paper. There’s a short piece on Kase, and a reprint of a Japanese newspaper article on Kiyoshi. He was also known as “the Japanese Van Gogh”, so there’s a short comparison of the two artists. There are several photos of him at different ages, and the last 2 pages give closer looks at 4 of his pictures, including London Bridge, and Kagoshima’s Sakura-jima volcano.  And, we get the two post cards.

It turns out that Kiyoshi is very well-known in Japan, and had inspired a “Kiyoshi boom” for his art in the 60’s. The Japanese wiki is more detailed than the English version, and is therefore probably more reliable. The Ijin mook does skip over some parts of his life, but it still contains enough information and artwork to justify wanting to learn more. Recommended.

80 Famous People – Heinrich Schliemann

The discovery of the City of Troy was never taught when I was in school. There was a special on the History Channel some years ago, but I didn’t watch much of it. If you’re not familiar with the story – Troy was an ancient city located in what is now modern Turkey. Little was really known about the city itself, and for a long time it was considered part of Greek mythology. Homer wrote both the Iliad and the Odyssey around the Trojan War, in which Paris of Troy steals Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, and takes her back to Troy. Troy falls when the Greek soldiers hide inside the Trojan horse and are brought inside the city walls during a night of drunken celebration. In the 1800’s, a couple archeologists came to the conclusion that Troy actually did exist historically and set out to find it. According to the wiki entry, the German Heinrich Schliemann took up excavation at a location now known as Troy II following meetings with the Brit Frank Calvert. In the entry, Calvert is credited with giving Schliemann the encouragement necessary to search for Troy on his own.

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Heinrich Schliemann was born in 1822, in Neubukow, Germany. At age 9, his mother died and he was sent by his Protestant minister father to live with an uncle. At age 11 he started attending the gymnasium in Neustrelitz, but his father was accused of embezzling church funds and the family fell into poverty. At age 14, Heinrich began working at a grocery to raise money for the family, but his health turned bad and he burst a blood vessel at age 19. He lost his job and took a position on a steamer instead. The steamer was bound for Venezuela, but went down in a gale. Schliemann and the other survivors washed up in the Netherlands and he took a job as a messenger office attendant in Amsterdam. At age 22, he joined an import/export company, which sent him to St. Petersburg, Russia. He took the opportunity to learn Russian and Greek. His brother, Ludwig, had become a gold speculator in California. When Ludwig died, Heinrich traveled to California and started up a bank in Sacramento. He made a fortune buying and reselling gold dust, but there were complaints of short-weight consignments, so he sold his business and returned to Russia. He married Ekaterina in 1852 and they had 3 children. He cornered the market on indigo dye, then made more money as a military contractor for Russia in the Crimean War. He retired in 1858 and spent a month studying the Greek language and history at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1866. He asked Ekaterina to join him in France but she refused to move so he divorced her, then formally decided to search for the city of Troy. In 1866, he visited several Greek locations and published a paper asserting his belief that Troy was at Hissarlik in Anatolia (modern Turkey). His divorce was finalized in 1869, and he advertised for a new wife through the newspaper. He met 17-year-old Sophia Engastromenos and they married in 1869 and later had 2 children. His major find in the Troy dig was called “Priam’s Treasure”, but after writing about it publicly, the Turkish government revoked his permission to dig and sued him for a share of the gold. It was smuggled out of the country and is currently in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. He died in 1890 from complications from a chronic ear infection. Although most of his claims or discoveries have been either discounted or questioned, he’s still identified as the man that discovered Troy.

The intro manga has Youichi and gang following up a school rumor of a big stone hidden behind a Shinto shrine building near the school. Mami says that she’s heard a related story – about ghosts that haunt the area around the shrine. Now frightened, Youichi notices a button in the middle of the stone and pushes it. Everyone jumps back when the stone splits open – revealing Study Bell. The manga wraps up with Merrino’s butler, Angora, stepping out of the room behind Study Bell. The butler tells the kids that he had to return to Sheep Planet, and discovered a worm hole that connects his parent’s room on the Sheep Planet to Earth via the Shinto shrine rock. He introduces his parents to the kids, but they’re disappointed that their original discovery turned out to be a failure. The next day, Mami jolts upright in class, realizing that the existence of a worm hole is also pretty cool.


The main manga is by Setsuko Yoneyama (Absorb; Ability, Majyo Rin, Record of the Lodoss War: Deedlit’s Tale) this time. The images of the older Heinrich do come relatively close to existing photos, but that for him as a child, and all of those for Sophia, are pure cartoon. Setsuko does a pretty good job on the background art, though. The story is laid out a bit differently this time, in that Heinrich narrates the entire thing in first-person.

It starts out with Schliemann introducing himself and immediately going into a flashback. At age 8, he received a history book as a present from his father. Looking at the pictures, he notices that at least one of them matches up with another history book he read, and he announces that Troy is real and that he’ll find it. He’s passed on to an uncle who reads a dissertation paper he wrote, and decides to allow him to attend school. But, his father gets accused of embezzlement, the family goes broke, and he has to quit school. To raise money for the family, he starts working at age 14, but pushes himself too hard and starts coughing up blood. Unable to work, he’s fired. He finds a job on a ship heading to South America, but it sinks in a gale and he washes up in the Netherlands. There, he gets a job in a trading company. But it isn’t until about age 22 when he’s sent to St. Petersburg that he finally has time to study languages at night for his own purposes. He jumps over huge blocks of his life until deciding he has enough money to pursue his dream of finding Troy. He goes to Paris, studies at the Sorbonne, then goes to Anatolia with some history and mythology books. Based on the descriptions in Homer’s works, he settles on Hissarlik as the most obvious place for the Troy ruins. He hires some men, is joined on the dig by his new wife Sophia, has some difficulties with the Turkish government, but within a fairly short time uncovers a drinking cup that leads to the rest of the Priam Treasure lode. The story ends with Heinrich telling Sophia to wear the Priam gold headdress and jewelry, and the narration talks about his finally being able to achieve the dream that he held so close to his heart ever since childhood.

The textbook section goes into more detail regarding Schliemann’s upbringing, marriage to and divorce from Ekaterina, and his travels to India, China, Japan and the U.S. Sidebars describe his methods for learning new languages within a few months, information on Sophia, a mention of Arthur Evans’ discovery of Knossos, and the fact that Schliemann actually dug too far (to Troy 2) and overshot the section of Troy that dates to the Trojan War (Troy 7). The last 2 pages describe other famous historical ruins that maintain some level of mystery – Machu Picchu, Pompeii, Mohenjo-daro, the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (which is surrounded by the Terracotta Army, Easter Island and Great Zimbabwe. Naturally, we also get the 2 postcards.

I know virtually nothing about the discovery of Troy, so I have to take both sources at face value. The Famous People mook treats Heinrich as a romantic dreamer that overcomes great odds to finally achieve on his own a dream that he’s had from childhood, and it includes the incident where a drunk sailor singing about Troy reminds him of that dream. The wiki entry pretty much rips that story apart, saying that the drunk sailor was probably something Heinrich fabricated, and that he’d gotten much of his start in finding Troy from Calvert (who’s not mentioned in the mook at all). The main manga ignores Ekaterina, and Schliemann’s semi-criminal activities in Sacramento and Turkey, although the textbook section does mention some of this in passing. As always, the primary attractions for me in the Famous People series are the photos and historical drawings in the textbook section, and this mook is no exception. I’d never heard of Mohenjo-daro or Great Zimbabe before, so reading about them now is pretty interesting. But, if you want a factual write-up on Schliemann, you’re better off finding a verified account from the library.

80 Famous People – Roald Amundsen

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Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer who came from a family of shipowners and captains. According the wiki entry his mother wanted him to become a doctor, but once she died, he changed professions at age 21. He was the first person to prove the existence of the northwest passage in Canada, and he led expeditions to both poles. While taking part in a rescue mission in 1928, the aircraft he was on crashed and his body was never found.

The intro manga has Merrino, Daichi, Youchi and Ken out grass sledding on a hill. Daichi decides to turn the day into an adventure by challenging everyone to race to a tree on another hill some distance away. His claim is that no one from their school has ever been there before, so they’d be the first. This fires the group up and they form teams of two, with Youichi and Daichi riding one sled, and Ken pulling Merrino on the other. The manga ends with both teams trudging up the hill, exhausted, side by side, when Mami and Utako pop out from behind the tree. The two girls had taken a taxi over, and walked up the stairs on the backside of the hill. Merrino saves the day by announcing that in this race, taxis are cheating, so all 4 boys win.

The main manga is by Tasuku Karasuma (Doll’s FolkloreRaideen and Shangri-la). He doesn’t really bother trying to get Roald’s features right based on existing photos. In fact, Roald often resembles a fellow Norwegian, Fridtjof Nansen more. He does a decent job on clothing, dogs and backgrounds, though.

The manga starts out with a young Roald reading the adventures of Sir John Franklin, and deciding that he’ll prepare for a life of hardship on the ice by opening his bedroom windows in the dead of winter and sleeping under his blankets. His mother opens the door the next morning to find the room filled with snow. He grows up listening to stories from sailors on the docks. One time, he and a friend try to ski through a mountain pass to get to the other side and are surprised by a freak snowstorm which almost kills the friend. Eventually he gets a job on a seal boat (clubbing seals on the ice), then buys his own boat for following the Franklin expedition to discover the northwest passage through Canada. Franklin’s mistake was to use a big boat, while Roald’s is smaller and sits higher in the water, which is imperative in some of the shallows along the way.

After the adventure is done, he’s talking to a friend back in Norway. The friend says that Roald can rest on his laurels now, when Roald suddenly races out of the room, compelled to keep traveling, this time to the North Pole. But, he’s in for a rude shock – the newspapers announce that Robert Peary has gotten there first. So, some time later, when he takes his boat and crew out on the water, the men demand to know what the point of going to the North Pole now is, and he tells them that he’s changed his plans. They’re going to the South Pole instead, and everyone cheers him. However, once they get to Antarctica, one of the men complains about Roald’s decision to sit at base camp for several months. He replies that he wants to make sure everyone is prepared before heading out so no one dies along the way. Finally, they set out, and arrive at the pristine ice field that surrounds the pole a full month before his chief rival, Robert Scott. The manga ends with a brief mention of Roald’s death in the airplane crash while trying to rescue another explorer.

The textbook section focuses heavily on Roald’s upbringing. There is a mention of his mother wanting him to study to become a doctor, but nothing about his family being in the shipping trade. Sidebars describe the impact that Franklin and Nansen had on him. There’s also sections on his exploration of the Northwest Passage, his trips to both poles, and the final airplane trip that took his life. There are a few photos from the south pole expedition, a mention of Peary, a side bar showing the differences between the Arctic and Antarctica, and a photo showing the U.S. Antarctica research building. The last two pages talk about Scott’s failed expedition and how his preparations differed from Amundsen’s (using horses instead of dogs, having too many men and not enough supplies, and using cotton clothing rather than animal furs). Plus there’s the 2 postcards.

The manga simplifies a lot of the story, which makes it less useful as a textbook biography. There’s no mention at all of how Roald’s time spent trapped on the ice during the Northwest Passage expedition, when he lived with the Inuit, helped prep him for the South Pole trip. But, that’s explained somewhat in the textbook section. And of course, there’s the issue of the manga design not looking like Amundsen. But, if you want to inspire children to be more adventurous, this mook is a decent start.