If you liked Fantagraphics ornate-yet-hip bestiary Beasts! and you find yourself pondering such unknowables as “why do we have an appendix?” or “what existed before the Big Bang?” then hie thee to the library—pronto—to check out The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science.
Although the foreword by David “The Way Things Work” Macaulay might seem to imply the sort of exploded diagrams and exhaustively detailed explanations that made his books so popular in the 90s, the execution of The Where, the Why, and the How is much more Beasts-like. That is to say, you won’t walk away with any clearer sense of what’s behind some of science’s greatest mysteries (for instance how stars are born, or why do whales beach themselves) but you will be introduced to each concept by a specialist in that field and a graphic artist’s exquisite interpretation of said mystery.
Some illustrations are charmingly direct—for instance “Do Squirrels Remember Where They Bury Their Nuts” is accompanied by a picture of a squirrel studying a road map—and others are as evocative as they are clever—an elephant using a feather to fly in “Why Do Placebos Work?”. In the end, despite the cross section on the cover, The Where, the Why, and the How is no good at dissecting anything with great certainty, but it excels in showing that there is great beauty and possibility in all the things we do not yet know.