A Graphic Novel About 17th-Century Philosophy

A father-son writing and illustration team tells the story of the Western thinkers that fell afoul of the church at the dawn of modernity.

Ben Nadler / Princeton University Press

Dark spots across the sun, men burned at the stake, an all-powerful church that brooks no idea outside its dogma—there is no subject so imbued with drama, intrigue, and fast-paced action as 17th-century Western philosophy. And thus no medium does it justice like the graphic novel.

No, really.

Heretics!, a graphic novel by Steven and Ben Nadler, introduces readers to what is arguably the most interesting, important, and consequential period in the history of Western philosophy. While respecting recent scholarship on 17th-century thought, the Nadlers sought to make these stories and ideas as accessible and engaging to as broad an audience as possible without condescension. At times, this called for some historical liberties and anachronism. (Full disclosure: there were no laptop computers or iPods in the 17th century.)

Above all, they wanted to tell this gripping story: one full of colorful characters, great intellectual achievements, and high personal drama. Ben’s illustrations help convey the thought experiments and flashes of inspiration these thinkers may have seen in their heads. These were, after all, human beings, not disembodied souls.

(As a father and son, they also wanted to make sure they were still speaking to each other when the project was done.)

A chapter from Heretics! appears below.

The images in this article have been excerpted from Steven Nadler and Ben Nadler's book, Heretics!: The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy.