4 out of 4 stars
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When thinking about a book that’s penned by “a professional medical researcher and a hobby anthropologist,” a short text filled with aphorisms and cartoons isn’t something you’d really expect to see. Add the fact that the author, Arthur Hartz, admits to not having any artistic ability to speak of, and you might just be thrown for a loop. However, Hartz collaborates with three illustrators — Aleksandar Jovic, Mike Wolfe, and Heroud Ramos — to launch into a commentary about our genetic and cultural predispositions to celebrate some people and devalue others.
Winners and Losers: In Words and Cartoons explores the meanings people attach to success and failure, identifying who the winners/losers are and how they are treated. Eight of the nine chapters are divided equally between the topics of winning and losing, with the last section providing a synthesis of what winning means. Each chapter contains the promised mix of aphorisms and cartoons, with Hartz also taking a jab at what famous personalities have said about success. For instance, as a counterpoint to George Eliot’s sentiment about the contributions of those “who lived a faithfully hidden life,” Hartz shots back, “Too bad nobody buys it. Only famous people count.”
Hartz’s sardonic observations, like everything else in his book, are meant to both entertain and provoke thought. There’s a sense of what I’d describe as playful jadedness in his writing — amusing in small doses but quite uncomfortable to take in when read all at once. After all, humor doesn’t completely nullify the harsh realities that Hartz brings to the fore. Too much of the same thing — sarcasm, in this case — can also be wearisome.
I enjoyed the cartoons more. They’re mostly comprised of a single panel, accompanied by a caption and/or a speech balloon containing a piece of dialogue. Hartz relies on both visual and verbal gags, but the humor is more obvious in some than others. One panel captioned “The strongest drive” portrays an emaciated man reaching for a trophy, bypassing food and two women in bikinis. Here, the meaning is clear and the point is quickly made. This is not so with some, such as a two-paneled strip depicting a man having a sculpture done, alongside an illustration of a group of scouts trekking through a forest. The quality of the drawings also differs. I'd prefer a consistent artistic style, but other readers might enjoy the variety the book offers.
Despite its brevity, I won’t recommend Winners and Losers for light reading. It is funny, but at its core, it's still a social commentary. One use of the book, Hartz casually suggests in the introduction, is to “initiate fights with friends and family.” I have no doubt this can be the case, as Hartz’s observations raise a lot of uncomfortable truths about how we judge people. “Good things come to those who look good,” Hartz writes — and isn’t that just the honest truth?
I rate Winners and Losers 4 out of 4 stars. It’s not perfect, but the few errors I found are negligible. Some statements and cartoons are rather ambiguous, but they also encourage further thought and reflection. Winners and Losers is definitely for older readers, especially those who like their commentaries wrapped up in wry humor.
Winners and Losers in words and cartoons
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