Reviews /

Great Minds

Authored by Joan Haig and Joan Lennon
Illustrated by Andre Ducci
Published by Templar Publishing

Great Minds explores wide ranging history of ideas from the ancient world to the present day.

This large format picture book begins with a brief outline of what, and who, philosophy is for. The authors then select thinkers from all over the world to illustrate how important ideas originate, are different, based on culture, and develop through the history of the last three millennia.

Our tour of ideas starts in China with Confucius and his exploration of what makes a good person. We then move to the philosophers of ancient Greece: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. There is a substantial section on Islamic thinkers of the 12th Century with fascinating information on how these thinkers influenced Christian and Jewish thought as well as contemporary movements such as the Arab Spring.

European philosophical ideas from Descartes to Karl Marx are focussed on. Marx’s thinking gets four pages as the authors take his guiding principle ‘Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it’ is a key theme throughout.

As the authors bring the reader towards the present day this theme becomes more pronounced. Gandhi’s ideas, including non-violence, and the fight against colonialism is covered as is African and Maori philosophy. Mary Midgley and the women of the Somerville Set’s ideas about why animals matter and paying attention to everyday matters are intriguing and relevant to the present day.

Finally, the Black American thinker Kimberle Williams Crenshaw is rightly covered. Williams was concerned about understanding the nature of how racism and other forms of oppression intersected with each other. Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality are explained well in this section.

Great Minds is a straightforward introduction to the history of ideas and emphasises that this is not just a European tradition but has developed from cultures worldwide throughout history. It is full of bitesize bits of information that would be accessible to young readers. The illustrations are bold and colourful as is the design. However, some of the background colours make the words hard to pick out, particularly the darker blue boxes.

It is an enjoyable read with outlines of ideas that both shape our times as well as indicating how the same ideas can be used to shape more positive collective futures. I do wonder, though, whether the casual reader of 11+ would pick up this book without it being recommended by a teacher or librarian.