My guess is that over time this review will be buried six feet underneath a heaping pile of other positive reviews, but Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein deliver big on death and dying in their educational and uproarious book Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates.
Cathcart and Klein try to explain the philosophical and theological underpinnings of death and dying to the lay person. It is a book for those of us who have a deep desire to contemplate the meaning of our existence, but are not quite able to see the light through the opaque language of the philosophers. Cathcart and Klein are able to simplify these complex concepts and make them understandable to the average guy. By giving us concrete examples to illustrate the concepts and infusing all this with humor, the book never drags. It remains interesting, funny, incredibly readable, and edutaining.
And speaking of edutainment, the book is written like Sesame Street for adults. There is always a lot going on. Like Plato, who illustrated his philosophy by writing dialogs, Cathcart and Klein write their book as a dialoge. So instead of Socrates speaking with various Athenians, Cathcart and Klein write an irreverent dialogue between themselves and their `neighbor' Daryl. The authors illustrate the concepts as answers to fundamental questions posed by Daryl. Interspersed with this are jokes that illustrate the concepts discussed. If that weren't enough, the book also contains a huge number of cartoons (possibly from the New Yorker or at very least in that style) that further illustrate the concepts and numerous humorous quotations to round everything out. In the hands of some authors this kind of juggling might become confusing, but in the hands of Cathcart and Klein, the four kinds of narrative all come together and really enhance understanding. The humor really helps here. Not only does it keep the reader entertained but keeps an otherwise morbid subject matter from becoming tiresome. In an odd way, the humor keeps the book about death alive.
As for the caveats, this book covers a lot of introductory material, but it is still introductory. Dabblers such as me will find this entertaining and interesting, but anyone who really wants to plumb to the depths of philosophy will be disappointed. All the high concepts are there for the lay person, but this is not an advanced philosophy text. Moreover, the authors don't stick with any one concept long enough to explore it thoroughly. This did not bother me, as the book is really supposed to be an introduction to these concepts, but might frustrate someone who wants a little more than the book was designed to deliver.
As to the humor, you may recognize some very, very old jokes. But Cathcart and Klein really do use the jokes to illustrate concepts and they have a knack for retelling the jokes rather well. Some of the jokes bombed with me, but they come in rapid succession. So even though it can be hit or miss, there are enough hits to keep the laughter going. Just to forewarn, some of the jokes are politically incorrect, but the authors seem to pick on women and men equally so my guess is that no one will get too offended.
All an all, a joyous romp through the valley of the shadow of death and the afterlife. It's hard to imagine a book like that, but here it is.