Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon’s Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy, reviewed.

Philosophy Explained, From Plato to Descartes to Zombie David Chalmers

Philosophy Explained, From Plato to Descartes to Zombie David Chalmers

Reading between the lines.
June 3 2015 12:05 PM

Friedrich Nietzsche, Get Out of This Boat!

The entertaining and erudite Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy takes readers down the river of modern thought.

Kevin Cannon.

Courtesy of Hill and Wang

Can one lone pre-Socratic in a canoe teach you everything you failed to learn about philosophy in college? Of course (though how can you be certain that you actually exist, etc.)! In the entertaining, erudite Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy, the game Heraclitus travels down the winding river of philosophical thought to lead us through a pocket history of examined living. Comics have helped make complex subjects accessible for years, of course, including in the work of the pioneering explainer Larry Gonick, whose three-volume (so far!) Cartoon History of the Universe remains the gold standard of the form. But Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon’s guide to philosophical thought is a creative addition to the cartoon academy, offering readers well-written, engaging mini-portraits of influential thinkers from Plato to John Stuart Mill to Zombie David Chalmers.

While Patton’s writing is clear and concise (he’s a professor at the University of Montevallo in Alabama), the book’s secret weapon is cartoonist Cannon, creator of the terrific throwback adventure comics Far Arden and Crater XV. In Cannon’s hands the world of philosophy is full of swashbuckling action, excellent sight gags, and delightful character design. He’s a master of panel layout and pacing, two undervalued skills that in this book make the difference between a solid academic outing and a book that never stops being fun to read. That you come out the other end enlightened is thanks in large part to Cannon’s ability to engineer energy and fun on the page. We’re really happy to have Kevin Cannon illustrating the June issue of the Slate Book Review.

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The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy by Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon. Hill and Wang.

Dan Kois edits and writes for Slate’s culture department. He is writing a book called How to Be a Family and co-writing, with Isaac Butler, an oral history of Angels in America.