Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dead Men: Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein have a small schtick going -- they write popular philosophy books that rely heavily on jokes to illustrate the various theories they toss about.  I remember laughing during the previous book (Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar) so when I saw this one on the Interesting Shelf at the library I grabbed it.  It doesn't hurt that the pearl in the title makes it fit one of my long-lasting challenges.

Sadly, this book about the philosophy of death isn't as interesting. Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between uses the conceit of a conversation with dim neighbor Daryl to talk over various philosopher's theories of life, death, afterlife, and self, interposed with jokes and comments from more palatable experts such as Woody Allen.  I've seen most of the short quotes before, and didn't learn anything from the rather shallow discussions of Heidegger, Plato, or other big names brought in to impress.

The lack of laughter also meant I had time to notice how male-centric the authors were.  Their default human was aggressively male, with women appearing mostly as props.  People show up in heaven, and the women are there as sexual gifts, not as people who also died and went somewhere.  It was all on the level of "farmers and their wives" kind of things -- obviously the women aren't farmers, right?  It got irritating quickly, but then book was short so I didn't have time to get too cranky.  And I tried out a few of the jokes with my family and got some chuckles.  So a mild recommendation for people wanting to dip a toe into philosophy.

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