Saturday, November 22, 2008

Preview: Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar

First of all, I have to say that Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar is an excellent title. I've seen this book at the bookstore several times and been pretty tempted to pick it up. Other obligations and shiny things have distracted me, though, so I was glad for the chance to read some of this as part of my email book club this week.

Written by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, this book is a light-hearted explanation of Philosophy, which uses jokes to explain big ideas. Or as the blurb says, "Philosophy 101 for those who like to take the heavy stuff lightly." (Find more on the authors' website here.)

From what I read, I wouldn't really call it laugh out loud funny. The humor reminded me of an older era - think Benny Hill and vaudeville. Some of the jokes are bawdy, most of them are kind of corny. Still, the authors' goal wasn't to write a tract on how to be funny, it was to write a readable book on philosophy, and it looks like the succeeded very well on that front. Will you walk away knowing everything there is to know about Spinoza and Kant? No, not by a long shot. But will you have a broader understanding of well-known philosophical concepts? Yes, absolutely.

In some ways, Plato and a Platypus reminded me of Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. Published in 1996, Sophie's World is by now, I think, used in many Philosophy 101 classes in the world. It's more of a textbook, couched as a story about a young girl learning about who she is through studying philosophy. I enjoyed reading Sophie's World a lot, and thought that both the story and the concepts it explained were fascinating. Plato and a Platypus is, though, much funnier and more light-hearted, so if you want to learn more about philosophy and prefer humorous books, this is the one for you.

Buy Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar on Amazon.
Buy Sophie's World on Amazon.

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