May 2008 -- Jim Whiting, The Life and Times of Aristotle (Hockessin, DE: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2007), 48 pages (hardcover), $19.95.
While our bookstores and school library shelves are filled with biographies for young readers on sports heroes and politically correct figures, there are few books on Western civilization’s greatest lives. For every twenty books on Kobe Bryant, you might possibly find one on, for instance, Julius Caesar.
The Life and Times of Aristotle changes that ratio, however slightly.
Published in 2007 as part of a series of biographies of famous people (Biography from Ancient Civilizations: Legends, Folklore and Stories of Ancient Worlds), this small but extremely concise hardbound volume does a remarkable job of conveying the times and the main philosophic and scientific tenets of, arguably, the greatest thinker who ever lived. In fact, author Jim Whiting (a prolific and versatile photojournalist) begins his book by posing the idea that Aristotle may have been the smartest man who ever lived. The rest of the book goes on to demonstrate why that claim is very possibly true.
Written for young people between the ages of nine and twelve, Life and Times skillfully blends biographical and historical accounts of Aristotle’s life and world with the philosopher’s own theories. Whiting also shows how Aristotle’s influence still extends into our world today, in examples that never pander and are quite helpful for a youthful audience. For example, his side section, “Aristotle and the Movies,” quotes Seabiscuit director and producer Gary Ross as saying that Aristotle’s Poetics “is the best book on screenwriting.”
Another side section (which Whiting calls “FYInfo”) is titled “Aristotle Influences the U.S. Constitution,” and it demonstrates how Aristotle’s political writings influenced the Founders. One rarely finds such salient integration and observation in college texts, let alone in a book for children.
The final chapter, “Aristotle’s Awesome Afterlife,” goes into great detail about the Greek thinker’s long-lasting influence on Western civilization. Whiting concludes with a timeline of events during Aristotle’s life, a chronology, a glossary of Greek terms, suggestions for further reading, and a final “FYI” on what happened to Aristotle’s famous school, the Lyceum.
This impressive little book deserves the widest possible young audience. But adults will find it an informative and entertaining refresher as well. Attractively designed and nicely illustrated, at forty-eight pages it is the perfect length for any student wishing to learn about the man whom Dante called “the master of those who know.”