Really, Really BIG questions about life, the universe, and everything by Dr. Stephen Law, illustrated by Nishant Choksi (and gentlemen, when the illustrations are as important to the book as these illustrations are, you PUT the illustrator's NAME on the COVER. Respect!)
I would like to organize my thoughts about this book. To do it justice. Because the book is certainly well-organized. It takes major philosophical questions - both the eternal ones, like "How can I tell right from wrong?" and the excruciatingly current ones, like "Did someone design the universe?" - breaks them down gently, and then finds accessible, often amusing analogies to go about finding the answers.
Many questions are left unanswered. Most, even, I'd say.
"How can we decide who is right about eating animals? We all agree it's wrong to kill and eat humans. But many of us think it's okay to eat other animals. And if it is okay, what's the difference between humans and other animals that makes it okay? Can you think of such a difference?"
That is the end of the segment on "Should we eat animals?" The author builds a solid platform of known vs. unknown logical quantities, and tops his structure with a challenge to the reader, all the while using friendly, down-to-earth language and a tone that never feels lecture-y.
There are a couple of areas that possibly - hmm - skirt the edge of oversimplifying. A discussion of observation and evidence avoids use of the word "experience," even though experience is an important tool that we use to collect data about and forge expectations of our world. I think this omission is intentional - because so many fallacious arguments are based on experience. But it would be churlish of anyone to deny this book based on such minor elisions.
Dr. Law has something of a cottage industry in teaching philosophy to non-philosophers. He is the editor of the journal Think, (somewhat pompously subtitled "Philosophy for everyone") and is the author of three well-received books about philosophy for older children. He even wrote the DK Eyewitness Philosophy book. Really Really Big Questions is his attempt to reach the youngest readers yet.
The design integrates the text blocks, headlines, and the funny, bold, retro-contempo style cartoons in a very up-to-date way, with lots of white space and big eroded type. Well, not "white" space. Every high-tooth page is full-bleed in a different bright color. A little hard to read? Eh, a little.
Extra points for a diverse cast of characters: boys, girls, grownups, kids, white, brown, green, gray (lots of aliens - and also robots!). And in case you got a little glimmer of recognition from that subtitle ("life, the universe, and everything"), there's an excellent piece of logic from Douglas Adams on page 15. Extra points for quoting Douglas Adams.