Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wore many hats: philosopher, geologist, paleontologist … priest. If you’re thinking that one of these things is not like the others, you’re right. Thus begins Teilhard’s Vatican trial …
Pierre Teilhard was born in 1881 and his greatest discoveries (the Peking man, the publication of LE PHENEMONE HUMAIN) took place in the mid-twentieth century. This book begins in the midst of Teilhard’s life, but the majority of the book recounts the Vatican trial of 2009. Niels de Terra summarizes Teilhard’s life, from his aristocratic beginnings in nineteenth-century Auvergne to his sudden death among friends in New York City. Years pass and, though Teilhard is long-gone, his ideas prove inspirational for President Obama and Avatar director James Cameron alike. The Catholic Church, formerly having rejected Teilhard’s ideas—for contradicting concepts like Original Sin and the Creation according to Genesis—must now decide: Was Teilhard the devoted Catholic that he believed he was? Or, indeed, was he a heretic with the arrogance to believe that he knew better than the Church?
Niels de Terra’s interest in Teilhard is keen, as evidenced by the book’s fastidious research. At times, however, author Niels de Terra’s own expertise is a weakness; the events of Teilhard’s life are dispersed about the book in a haphazard order—for example, in the very first chapter, the plot jumps from Teilhard’s journey into the Mongolian desert to a depiction of his house in the Auvergne countryside to what appears to be a depiction of Teilhard speaking to the reader from the grave and then, abruptly, to Hastings University, where Teilhard once studied. Though de Terra makes an effort to render Teilhard’s history accessible to a wide audience, the book serves more as a supplement to previous knowledge about the philosopher. For the Teilhard enthusiast, the connection between the events may be obvious; however, for the novice, it is difficult to grasp the projection of Teilhard’s life. Similarly, Teilhard’s invented terms and concepts are scattered throughout the book without explanation—the “Omega Point,” “Christogenesis,” the “noosphere.” These terms are far from universally understood, and a glossary added at the book’s end is not sufficient to provide the reader with enough context to follow the plot.
Interestingly, the book is what one might call a graphic biography—written in the form of a graphic novel, but with content that is historical and biographical. It is unclear why de Terra chose to use this format; unlike graphic novels which use visuals cinematically to portray the events of the text, OVERKILL’s graphics have a tendency to illustrate, rather than working WITH the text to develop plot or character. This is the key difference between a graphic novel and an illustrated text. The way that the illustrator pieces together different time periods and events is also hard to follow and serves more as a distraction than as a visual aid.
A vested interest in philosophy and science is a prerequisite for diving into OVERKILL, curious readers will be able to get by with a search engine on hand—and using the book’s glossary extensively.
Filled with assiduous attention to detail, OVERKILL is a comprehensive and unusual recording of a unique man’s life and discoveries.