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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 7 November 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you have children in your life who ask difficult questions, such as "What Is Evolution? or "Where did everything come from?" then this is the book for you. The author encourages a scientific approach to answering such enquiries, but he isn't afraid to admit that science doesn't have all the answers. This book also covers philosophical topics, such as "Is it OK to eat animals?" and "Is it wrong to design a baby?", in which the reader is encouraged to decide the answer for themselves. This book provides some food for thought and a framework from which to form your conclusions.

The cover of this book is designed to look aged, as if it is already a well-loved, well read tome. It's not a design style I like, but it doesn't detract from the contents. The interior art is composed of stylised cartoons, which illustrate without trivialising the questions being discussed. There is interesting use of typography, though the text stands on its own merits. Who can resist a book which asks, "When should we be like Sherlock Holmes?" I would recommend this book to curious children - and adults - everywhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I ordered this book thinking it would be good to discuss with my 12 year old son, but despite trying a few times it hasn't really led us anywhere. He would rather talk about Warhammer and PS3 games. Maybe I should give it a go with my nephews who are younger.

On the other hand, I've spent a few hours discussing various interesting topics covered by the book with my wife as it has sat on our kitchen table for a few weeks.

My wife thinks that the book is slightly anti-God, and would prefer if it accepted explanations of topics from more than one point of view. I on the other hand think that it is deliberately aimed at younger children who might struggle to understand subjects if they are explained in more than one way - they can always disagree with the author's opinion.

So, the good thing about this book is that it reminds me that I enjoy discussing things with my wife.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 9 January 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My 11-year-old and I looked at this together and found its true value was as a conversation starter. With such wide coverage, the book couldn't hope to go into much detail on any of the questions featured, so my son was left (a) wanting to know more; and (b) wanting to talk about the ideas. It led to deeper discussions than we've ever had. Parents should bear in mind hte need to devote suitable time for this when choosing this book.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 17 November 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a great book to give as a gift to a kid aged 7-9 if you want to flatter his or her parents by suggesting that you think their kid is bright. Whether the kid will like it or not is open to little bit of debate.

First off, I think the design is meant to appeal to parents in their forties rather than kids. It has a very retro look - a lot of the books that I had as a kid had been printed in the 60s and early 70s and looked like this. I'm not sure it will appeal to today's CGI-reared generation. The cover has a distressed look as if the book is old and well loved. I suspect that some kids will think they've been given a second hand book when they see it. Also, some of the text is printed in black against a very dark colour - you need to read this in a well lit room. The star I've knocked off is for the design that, in my limited sample size, didn't really appeal to its target market.

So, what of the content? The book is designed to get kids thinking for themselves so it often answers questions with another question. Generally speaking this works well as it encourages children to think critically and develop their powers of deduction and reasoning. At times I found its tendency to be non-judgemental annoying - but them I'm a grumpy 43 year old who made his mind up a long time ago on things like astrology and intelligent design. In many cases my instinct would be to say "No of course not" - but then that wouldn't be as powerful as nudging the child in the right direction and allowing them to make up their own mind. As an aside, this book has been great in reminding me to frame answers to my daughter's questions in a more open way where appropriate.

The topics covered are broken up into four sections:
* The Great Big Universe Puzzle (physical sciences - although nothing on where babies come from);
* Mysterious Minds and Robots that Think (from consciousness to spoon bending);
* The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (ethics); and
* Seeing and Believing (critical thinking, the difference between theory and belief).

The answers are generally very good, fair and open and should help your child (a) decide what they think is right for themselves on those points where there isn't a 100% true and right answer and (b) help them develop the sort of skills that they will need in order to form intelligent and well thought out opinions on anything not in the book. It might be a bit frustrating for anyone who "just wants to know the answer".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is good fun - but has a serious purpose. It presents various questions in an amusing and lighthearted way but then goes on to respond to them seriously and lucidly. Some of the questions are quite silly - eg What is is like to be a bat? while others are challenging to adults as well as young people - such as whether we should allow designer babies.
I liked the way that the more wacky questions were handled. Any truth to Alien abductions? The authors resist responding that these people are nutters and instead give a logical and thoughtful answer.
In among the fun there are many profound ideas that would challenge the thinking of many young people.
The illustrations amusing without being twee and the layout is inviting. Ideal for 9 - 12 year olds.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've been through this book several times and I'm frustrated at how little space each topic gets, in so much as it starts off well and then the author gets bored and just finishes the paragraph at the earliest opportunity.

I'm perhaps being a little unfair, the book is clearly aimed at making children question the world around them, which is good, and the art style is fantastic throughout (great quality paper too), it's just I wanted more.

I think there are better books that cover similar topics but this does have its own charm. Despite my misgivings I think it would make a great gift for a kid that likes a mental challenge and is a prepared to look up facts and come to their own conclusions.

Not bad, but falls short of really good.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As any parent of small children knows, kids have an alarming ability to catch you out with unanticipated questions at the most inopportune moment. I have had to cope with "Why don't girls have willies?", "What does the tooth fairy want my teeth for?" and "Why do you smell of potatoes?" These tend to be fired at you just after you have been woken out of a deep sleep at half past no civilised hour in the morning by a jab in the ribs, ie times when your brain is not at its sharpest. Of course these moments are chosen so that the kids can then justifiably call you an idiot for not being able to answer such a simple enquiry. I therefore decided to arm myself with this book in order to be ready when they start coming out with the heavy duty stuff. Aimed at key stages 2 and 3 (and don't ask me what this means, I would like a grown ups version of the book that answers this sort of thing, and others like What do management consultants actually do for all that money?), Really Really Big Questions addresses many of those deep thought issues that you used to grapple with when you were teenager but then you discovered beer/sex/box sets of interminable TV series to take your mind off such things.

The book is split into four themed sections, as follows:

The Great Big Universe Puzzle
(14 questions on the meaning of life, origins of universe, God, eg Where did everything come from? What is evolution? What is the meaning of life?)

Mysterious Minds and Robots that Think
(7 questions on problems of consciousness, perception, AI, psychic powers, eg Is my mind my brain? Could a robot think? Could you bend a spoon with your mind?)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
(8 questions on ethics, moral issues, right and wrong, eg What makes stealing wrong? Is it OK to eat animals? Will money make me happy?)

Seeing and Believing
(14 questions on knowledge, scientific enquiry eg What is knowledge? Can scientists prove that dinosaurs walked the earth? Does astrology really work? Is time travel possible? Are there really miracles?)

The responses are, obviously, not conclusive or definitive but tend to be more like jumping off points for further investigation. The tone is chatty and informal, with various simple thought experiments used to illustrate key ideas or concepts. The core philosophy that the book is trying to encourage is that kids (and everyone) should approach all these questions with an open inquring mind, use their reasoning and challenge assumptions. Nevertheless, when it comes to astrology, psychic phenomena, the existence of fairies and the religious stuff, the author is firmly on the side of rational and enlightened humanism.

When it comes to questions of faith or religious belief, the approach is gently and empirically agnostic. So when it asks "Can I make something true by believing it?", the answer is "sometimes" (in situations where such belief can give you confidence which may help you to succeed) but not when it would mean ignoring the everyday laws of physics (so not if you believe you can fly and jump off a cliff relying on that belief to keep you aloft). Rather than posing the God question outright, the author tackles the issue via the query "Did someone design the Universe?" The answer starts off with Paley's Watch and ends up with Adam's Puddle (that's Douglas `Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Adams who said that a puddle which has formed in a specific hole would be mistaken to believe that the hole had been designed just for that puddle). This seems an entirely satisfactory response to me, though no mention is made of Adam's other major contribution, his answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. (The answer's in the title of my review by the way, the only problem is in this instance we don't know what the question is.)

Some of the questions are a bit odd - What's it like to be a bat? Does bleeding people make them better? The latter especially seems out of place but perhaps these are meant to reflect the leftfield curveballs that occasionally come flying your way from your very own baby genius.

There is also a brief further reading' section comprising just 6 books, 3 of which happen to be by the same author, along with three websites and 5 thinking tips. There's a four page glossary which provides a bit more detail on various terms and people mentioned in the main text. But this is very random - the full list of people included in the glossary is: Charles Darwin, Democritus, Empedocles, Heraclitus and Rosa Parks. So, no Plato, Galileo, Newton, Planck, Einstein, Hawking, etc. But even on its own terms it is oddly selective. Rosa Parks is quoted in the main body of the the book so she's in the glossary, but there are equally prominent quotes from, er, Derren Brown and Jon Bon Jovi but they don't get glossed. All very odd.

So, as a primer for potential enquiries from kids it's quite helpful if a little lightweight even for the key stage 2s and 3s it's aimed at. From a design point of view, the book looks good, lots of bright colours and snappy illustrations in the style of UPA (you know, like Gerald McBoing Boing) on robust card like paper. However, most disappointingly of all, it doesn't answer that most vital question - Why do I smell of potatoes?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a brilliant book! It's nicely laid out in manageable chunks, with thoughtfully presented ideas that the reader is encouraged to ponder. It steers an admirably neutral line. I've got 10 year-old twins and I passed this over to them after I'd flicked though it. They've passed it back and forth between themselves and been thoroughly engrossed. It's inspired some interesting and entertaining conversations, not least when the two questions 'Are the Mind and the Brain the same thing?' and 'Can someone bend a fork with their Mind?' were considered together. It's sparky and enthusing without being at all heavy or intimidating. A great book for any bright kid. This would make a brilliant Christmas present, take note cool aunts and uncles.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 28 January 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I loved the retro design of this book; it really reminded me of the way books looked to me back in the '70s. This book takes some important issues and "really big questions" and starts little minds thinking about them. It's appealing to look at, with plenty going on on each page. My 10 year old daughter loved it and often reads it in bed.

It lost a star because I thought some of the issues could have been covered in more detail, so in that respect maybe it's better for 7-9 yr olds. An excellent starting place for getting children to think about life, the universe and everything though.
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on 25 October 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Philosophy for Children (P4C) is an emerging discipline, based on the idea that it is important to encourage young people to think for themselves about the big issues of the day. And this book fufils that aim brilliantly, in an engaging and challenging style.

The book is split into four chapters:
- Ch 1: The Great Big Universe Puzzle: dealing with the origins of the universe, evolution, physics and the meaning of life.
- Ch 2: Mysterious Minds and Robots that Think: dealing with ours and other people's minds (including bats!), and psychic powers.
- Ch 3: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: dealing with ethics and morality
- Ch 4: Seeing and Believing: dealing with the nature and reliability of knowledge, time travel and aliens.

The book explains some very complex ideas in simple language, but does not dumb down these ideas at all, which makes it a pleasure to read. The only reason I've given it four stars not five is that I think the author deals with some of the more complex issues so succintly that the point of some of the questions may be missed.

For example, the question about what it is like to be a bat is based on Thomas Nagel's article of the same name - but unless you knew that, it might just come across as a really odd question to ask! Similarly, the author asks a question ostensibly about the old medical practice of bleeding (Does bleeding people make them better?). This question is actually about the nature of causality, but on a first read it just seems like an oddball question.

These are very minor gripes, though, in what is otherwise a lovely book, and heartily recommended to both young and old alike.
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