A fun, clear and clever introduction to the rich history of philosophy in the Western world.


An obscure, pre-Socratic Greek philosopher takes readers down the long river of philosophy, explaining movements, theories, breakthroughs and ethics with the help of a few special guest stars.

Oh, what cartoonist and mathematician Larry Gonick started when he launched his cartoon histories of history and the universe. Now, Hill and Wang follows up its cartoon histories about economics with this clever and high-spirited history of philosophy by Patton (Philosophy/Univ. of Montevallo) and illustrator Cannon (Crater XV, 2013, etc.) Our narrator is Heraclitus, who literally paddles readers down the river of philosophy represented in his teachings, stopping along the way to pick up passengers like a foulmouthed Friedrich Nietzsche. “Twenty-five centuries ago, when I said that ‘It is not possible to step twice into the same river’…I was remarking on the fact that everything around us is in flux, and change is the only constant,” Heraclitus explains. “This also applies to the field of philosophy, which, perhaps more than any other, is constantly changing due to its own progress and self-criticism. No two rides down this river will be the same.” The themes are broken up nicely so that in the chapter on logic, we might meet Aristotle but also John Stuart Mill; in “Minds,” we reconnect with Nietzsche but also run into the British mathematician Alan Turing and his famous “Turing Test” or even the contemporary Australian philosopher David John Chalmers. In the chapter on God, we meet classical thinkers in Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant but also debate Charles Darwin over whether evolution and natural selection are possible without a guiding hand from a creator. Patton and Cannon also offer a nice visual portrait of each philosopher as well as a concise summary of each person’s work and ideas, not to mention a helpful glossary covering the spectrum from “Absolutism” to “Validity.”

A fun, clear and clever introduction to the rich history of philosophy in the Western world.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8090-3362-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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