Summer Book Recommendation: Heretics! The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy

Steven Nadler is a philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a publishing history that reflects his interest in the seventeenth-century thinker Baruch Spinoza. Nadler’s son, Ben, is a comic artist.

The two Nadlers combine forces in Heretics! The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy, a comic-book-style history of seventeenth-century philosophy that combines eye-popping and often funny illustrations with clear, engaging explanations of what may otherwise be difficult concepts to understand.

Ben Nadler’s illustrations are surreal, playful, and bring ideas to life in strange and memorable ways. In panels relating to Leibniz’s idea of the “best of all possible worlds,” for instance, an ecstatic globe receives a beauty-pageant-style tiara as a group of other, competing globes sulk in the background.

Elsewhere, Hobbes and Descartes have a boxing match.

Heretics would appeal to those with an interest in philosophy, but also to students who care about science and technology.

The Nadlers explore the careers and ideas of thinkers like John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, René Descartes, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and Thomas Hobbes, (whose theory of mind we mentioned in our post about GOFAI).

The questions these thinkers raised about nature, ethics, and the mind reverberate to this day, particularly in the emerging fields of artificial intelligence, bioethics, and cognitive science.

I recommend Heretics to anyone who either anticipates taking a philosophy class in college or is interested in a field that engages with philosophical questions.

Above all, though, I recommend Heretics to curious people.


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