Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates

Overview

Greek philosophy for kids

"I know that I know nothing."

With this classic statement, uttered over two thousand years ago, Socrates set the standard for the future of Western philosophy. By day, he soaked up the sun in the Athenian marketplace, where he'd converse for hours on end about the meaning of wisdom, right and wrong, courage, justice, and love. By night, he feasted and danced with friends. He was charming, but not handsome, happy, but ...

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Overview

Greek philosophy for kids

"I know that I know nothing."

With this classic statement, uttered over two thousand years ago, Socrates set the standard for the future of Western philosophy. By day, he soaked up the sun in the Athenian marketplace, where he'd converse for hours on end about the meaning of wisdom, right and wrong, courage, justice, and love. By night, he feasted and danced with friends. He was charming, but not handsome, happy, but not rich. Unfortunately, his method of thinking did not sit well with everyone. In the end, his fellow Athenians punished him with death.

The story of Socrates' life unfolds through cheerful illustrations and a two-tiered text, one layer quite simple, the other full of juicy additional details about the philosopher's life and times. The ending assembles a "School of Athens," showcasing thinkers, from Erasmus to Martin Luther King, Jr., who have been inspired by Socrates' philosophy.

A biography of Socrates, a philosopher and teacher in ancient Greece who held that wisdom comes from questioning ideas and values rather than simply accepting what is passed on by parents and teachers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Usher brings his lofty subject down to an understandable level, in his first book for children. With enlightening results, the author tackles the life and teachings of the famous Greek thinker in a biography that can be read on two levels. The main text offers a child-friendly account of the philosopher's life: "Long ago in ancient Greece, a boy named Socrates declared that all he knew was nothing. So he spent his whole life asking questions." On the right side of the spreads, a rectangular scroll offers further explanations and interesting details (e.g., "In a world full of know-it-alls, Socrates was brave enough to admit his ignorance"). Usher touches on the philosopher's striving for simplicity, including Socrates' using of tradesmen as examples in his discussions, and his enjoyment of conversation and dance. Bramhall's (Hepcat) black line and watercolor wash paintings add a dynamic touch, whether presenting the hustle and bustle of ancient Athens or more contemplative moments of the philosopher among friends. Caricature-like portraits maintain an upbeat tone, even when Socrates awaits a death sentence for charges trumped up by jealous citizens. The final scene depicts Socrates at the center of a roomful of famous thinkers across the ages, followed by quotations about Socrates from each, along with a brief bio. While large in scope, Usher (who drew entirely from ancient sources, mainly Plato's dialogues) keeps the ideas clear-cut and accessible, making this Socrates for the school-age set a fine introduction to philosophy. Ages 8-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
This is the place for all budding philosophers to start--a children's book about one of the most famous philosophers of ancient times, Socrates. Though this will probably have a limited audience, this work could serve nicely as a biography for the upper elementary grades, especially for obscure individuals. Presented similar to a picture book format, Usher includes factual text in illustrated "scrolls" to accompany the large, cartoon-like illustrations. These "scrolls" of information complement the illustrations and text with snippets of life in ancient Greece, myths, tidbits of Socrates' life, and followers (Martin Luther King, Jr., Bertrand Russell, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few) explaining his words of wisdom, reflecting on his philosophy of life, and carrying on the message to change unjust laws and always to ask questions.. Though Socrates' life ends tragically, his message is presented carefully and respectfully for this audience, leaving readers with a better understanding of the era, as well as the man. Bramhalls's watercolor illustrations engage readers to look deeper into each page--giving careful attention to the culture, fashion and architecture of the day. 2005, Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 9 to 12.
—Elizabeth Young
School Library Journal
Gr 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 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"He was a curious boy, and cheeky too, but more than anything in all the world he wanted to be happy, he wanted to be good, and he wanted to be wise." Having opened a dialectic ("a Greek word for an intense logical conversation") that continues to this day, Socrates remains a seminal figure in the history of ideas-ideas which, as Usher, a Classics professor, brilliantly proves, are not beyond the abilities of even younger readers to absorb. Noting that Socrates was not only a dedicated seeker of truth but a social gadfly and a hearty partier, the author follows him from youth to trial and execution, using running side notes to expand on concepts introduced in the main text. Bramhall captures the generally lighthearted tone with broad caricatures of the tubby philosopher-looking like a cross between Avi and Zero Mostel-happily engaged in talk with both attentive followers and discomfited adversaries. Usher closes with links between Socrates and such later thinkers as Erasmus and Martin Luther King, Jr., plus chapter and verse, or at least credible justification, for all of his quotes and information. An intimate, memorable, outstanding introduction. (biographical sketches, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 8-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374312497
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 11/2/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 8 - 13 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.13 (w) x 11.23 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

M. D. Usher is a professor of classics at the University of Vermont, and this is his first children's book. He lives in Shoreham, Vermont.

William Bramhall is the author and illustrator of one other children's book, Hepcat. He lives in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2006

    Great Classical Homeschool Resource!

    Homeschoolers will want WISE GUY on their bookshelf. We loved it and it was a great introduction to Socrates for our 9 and 12 year old boys. 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 creatively combined these two elements to make a great family book to re-visit as the family grows up!

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