Philosophy: A Discovery in Comics (NBM)

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Most books on philosophy tend to be stuffy, but with her expressive cartooning, Dutch artist Margreet de Heer gets down to basics without forgetting the fun.

 

 

120 pgs., color; $16.99
(W / A: Margreet de Heer)
 
Philosophy can be regarded as a difficult and forbidding topic requiring years of study before you can begin to comprehend its essence, or it may be regarded as a friendly and common-sense approach to the kind of issues every human being faces, such as: Who am I? What is real? How should we live?
 
Dutch cartoonist Margreet de Heer takes the second approach in Philosophy: A Discovery in Comics, which contains nothing that would be beyond the comprehension of an interested teenager, and yet touches on issues that the wisest adult may also contemplate. She mixes a personal, autobiographical approach to the topic, beginning with her 5-year-old self questioning the world around her and ending with her adult self setting out her life’s philosophy, with a more standard, historical approach, including summaries of the lives and philosophies of luminaries from Socrates to Spinoza. This isn’t a book to help you cram for exams, however—it makes no attempt to cover all the standard philosophers and topics, but instead uses a well-chosen few to illustrate different approaches to the big issues.
 
Philosophy is organized like a virtual road trip, with de Heer and her husband Yiri (also a cartoonist; he did the coloring for this volume) offering commentary on the issues and philosophers covered, frequently raising the same kinds of questions that we would have, and providing reasonable answers to many of them. The illustrations are cute and colorful, alternating between standard frame-based sequential comics and full-page splashes, and de Heer’s cheerful style keeps even the weightiest questions from seeming too difficult to contemplate.
 
The most interesting section of the book comes near the end, when she asks friends and family members about their personal philosophies. Yiri’s favorite thinker is the comedian George Carlin, because he emphasizes cutting through BS to see things clearly. Family friend Gerrit’s favorite philosopher is Nietzsche, because he emphasized liberation and living life to the fullest. Mother-in-law Yolanda favors the European cultural critic George Steiner, because he believed that we are all “grateful wanderers in a world that is at the same time terrible and beautiful.” Little brother Maarten favors being in the here and now, and takes as his primary identity that of father to his children.
 
 I won’t spoil what de Heer states as her philosophy, but I will repeat the question which ends the book--  “What do YOU think…?” -- because I agree that philosophy is for everyone, not just the PhDs. This is really the point of this book: it’s great to read about what other people have said about the big philosophical issues, but the real point is to think about them for yourself and draw your own conclusions. | Sarah Boslaugh
 
Click here for a preview of Philosophy: A Discovery in Comics, courtesy of NBM!
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