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Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates Hardcover – September 29, 2005

13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 2-5–This ambitious attempt to present the life and thinking of this ancient Greek philosopher to young readers does so with mixed results. The text has two tiers. The first layer (presented in a larger font) is, according to the book jacket, quite simple, while the second (presented in smaller print in a scroll-shaped box) is full of juicy additional details. Both sections contain statements that are oversimplifications of complex ideas and require further background or explanation. In one particularly confusing section of the book, the first tier states that Apollo, god of wisdom, loved Socrates dearly. 'No one is as wise, or good, or brave as he,' Apollo said. The other gods agreed. The line between Socrates's beliefs and fact is blurred here and elsewhere. There are, however, many instances where Usher distills the essence of Socrates's thinking into approachable terms, such as in his discussion that compares the idea of the blueprint for a bed to a blueprint for larger concepts: Just as a carpenter with vast knowledge and experience can make a good bed, and in turn be a good carpenter, a person who has studied the blueprint of right and wrong can be a good person. With the exception of some fictionalizing in terms of his subject's childhood, Usher has been careful to use documented sources, and the writing style itself flows reasonably well. Bramhall's amusing cartoons greatly enliven the presentation. Anyone wishing to introduce the field of philosophy to students would find this offering a useful starting point.–Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Gr. 2-4. This cheerful picture-book biography of Socrates has two concurrent texts: the story of his life, which is freely fictionalized and unconvincing in its description of the early years, and, in smaller print, an introduction to the philosopher's ideas, which is actually quite good. As Usher states in the appended notes, "Socrates' adult interests have been imaginatively read back into his youth." The result is a child character who sounds utterly unchildlike. In a sudden growth spurt shown in the illustrations but unexplained in the text, Socrates grows from a scruffy child on one double-page spread to a scruffy man on the next. The accessible style of the sophisticated ink-and-watercolor artwork is reminiscent of that of a cartoonist or caricaturist. And on the closing pages, there are caricatures of later thinkers, from Erasmus to Gandhi, who comment on Socrates. A note on sources and a short bibliography (labeled "For Further Reading" but clearly aimed at adults) are appended as well. Parents who can't wait to introduce their elementary-school progeny to Socrates will find this an original, but not wholly successful, choice. Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 13 years
  • Grade Level: 3 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 1060L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); First Edition edition (November 2, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374312494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374312497
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.4 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,110,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bill Koch, DDS on December 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
All those days of torture came back to me-- the "Socratic Method" they called it... THEY being my oral surgery profs. They just kept asking questions until we ran out of answers. Mark Usher brings the father of philosophy to life in Wise Guy, an easy-to-read, well-illustrated primer for kids. The book is appropriate for two age groups, 6-8 and 9-12, as it is written and illustrated for the younger readers in the main frames, with more dissertation on sidebars for the pre-teens. The book covers Socrates' early life as he attempted to pin down the basic concept of the idea. It continues along, with Socrates picking up disciples as he developed the dialectic-- his framework for the logical analysis of ideas. The etermal question of the nature of good and evil prompts him to spawn the logical basis for ethics. Finally, as his enemies bring him to trial for his teachings, it is the ethics he deduced that left him no alternative but the cup of hemlock.

In a world of post-modern cultural and ethical relativism, it is precisely Socrates who can offer our young people an anchor in the form of logical analysis of ethical dilemmas. The pursuit of wisdom is the pursuit of truth, which is in reality the search for an absolute. Contrast this to our modern culture's use of phrases such as "my truth" and "what's right for me", and the book offers its best lesson.

Written in a lighthearted, storybook fashion, one is hard pressed to be saddened at the demise of Socrates. His death marked the notion that no man is above the law, despite its imperfections. This is important to note for parents concerned about the appropriate time to introduce literature with death involved. It is definitely not frightening as presented.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Augustine on November 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Wise Guy" is possibly one of the cleverest children's books I have ever come across. Although the main text is ostensibly targeted at "juveniles," the delightful illustrations will nevertheless appeal to the youngest kiddies in the crowd (my 4-year-old was ROFL at Socrates' antics), while the sidebar commentary offers adult-level background info on the thinking, history, and legend behind Socrates and ancient Greece. The storyline itself is captivating, and the end of the book deftly ties in the impact of Socrates' legacy on our modern world, linking the ancient "Wise Guy" to later Wise Guys (including Gandhi, Hannah Arendt, and MLK)-a gentle and good-natured debunking of scoffers who would dismiss Socrates as just another Dead White Male. The author, a university professor, does his own homework too: the end pages provide handy sections entitled "The Ancient Sources" and "Further Reading," which will surely be useful for those whose interest in the classics is piqued by this marvelous book. Let us hope for many additional works in this vein by the duo of Usher and Bramhall.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Wishful Thinker on November 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
With "Wise guy" Professor Usher and artist Bramhall have brilliantly captured the ancient sage, Socrates, growing from childhood through adulthood always asking those simple questions that through the ages have always had hard answers. These are questions that each person must grapple with. The clever text and extraordinary illustrations comfortably link the reader to the person, Socrates, and ancient Greece. The sidebar text on each page provides more depth that enables an advanced young reader or an adult to probe more deeply into the ideas and concepts presented. This is a must-have book for kids with an inquisitive mind. Bravo to Usher and Bramhall for their engaging book. Let's have more!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mother Goddess on January 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love this book! Having studied philosophy in college, I wanted to introduce my children to the subject. (Aristotle himself said that all philosophy begins with a child-like sense of wonder.) The author, a philosophy professor, does a marvelous job of presenting not only Socrates' life and times but also his philosophical ideas in a simple, straightforward way. My small children (one a beginning reader) had no trouble at all following the basic storyline, and my husband and I learned a lot we didn't know from the commentary that accompanies each page. Socrates was a rationalist, but what I especially like about this book is that we get to see Socrates' mystical or spiritual side, which is presented in a lighthearted, yet serious way. The best part about this book, however, are the artful illustrations. Some scenes are whimsical (like the picture of Socrates dancing), others touching (especially the pages dealing with Socrates' trial and death). I've looked at this book two or three times since I bought it and I expect it will get many more readings over the years.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Classical Homeschool Mom on February 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Homeschoolers will want WISE GUY on their bookshelf. Our family loved it and it was a great introduction to Socrates for our 9 and 12 year old. Younger children will enjoy the great illustrations and gentle story about Socrates while older students, adults included, will learn more historical information about ancient times. Usher and Bramhall combined these elements creatively and made a great family book to re-visit as the family grows. A great find for our homeschool!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ohioan on May 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a brilliant, heart-felt, humorous yet serious introduction to Socrates and his philosophy. It is obvious that the author knows everything about Socrates. Knowing everything often produces a bad book, because the author tries to fit that everything into the shape of a book. This isn't the case with M.D. Usher, who selects salient details that show Socrates' respect for the common people and their wisdom, that show he served in the army and marched barefooted, that show he knew his own worth and contributions to his city and, indeed, to all of humanity.

The story is told on two levels, as in Snowflake Bentley, with one level, the running narrative, talking to both younger and older children, and the other level, the scrolled-in text, addressing issues that older children can comprehend and think about. A highly recommended book, providing not only information, but food for thought for both children and adults.
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