Sunday, May 03, 2015

Einstein Simplified by Sidney Harris

Sidney Harris has been the premier cartoonist of science and academia for the last five decades: if you've been part of an institution, as student or faculty or whatever, any time since the 1970s, you've certainly seen Harris cartoons tacked up on doors and bulletin boards and shared via e-mail. I used to see his cartoons a lot in Omni, back in the day, and he's also appeared in The New Yorker, Science, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Playboy, and National Lampoon, among many others.

And there have been a number of collections of his work over the years, though mostly from publishers known more for science and scholarship than for funny stuff. Whether that made his work more immediately accessible to its core audience or hampered him in finding an even wider audience, I couldn't say: it's a very rare artist who manages to hit even a majority of his potential audience. But Harris has had a great career, full of smart and witty work, that makes readers feel just a bit smarter every time they get one of his jokes.

One of Harris's major collections was Einstein Simplified, originally published in 1989 by Rutgers University Press and available sporadically since then in other editions. This one focuses specifically on Harris's science cartoons -- he's had other collections with food cartoons, or business cartoons, or environmental cartoons, but this one is mostly people in white coats pointing at blackboards or strange animals talking about their evolutionary path.

Science can be funny, and Harris is one of the best at making science jokes. And, since these are mostly older science jokes -- from the 1970s and 1980s -- they're more likely to be part of common culture than newer jokes on more esoteric branches of science. I'd like to think that just about anyone reading Antick Musings would enjoy Harris, since he's the perfect nexus of cartooning, science,and humor.

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