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Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson
Synopses & Reviews
In this grand sweeping history, Jennifer Michael Hecht celebrates doubt as an engine of creativity and as an alternative to the political and intellectual dangers of certainty. Just as belief has its own history featuring people whose unique expressions of faith have forever changed the world, doubt has a vibrant story and tradition with its own saints, martyrs, and sages.
Hecht blends her wide-ranging historical expertise, passionate admiration of the great doubters, and poet's sensibility to tell a stimulating story that is part intellectual history and part showcase of ordinary people asking themselves the difficult questions that confront us all. She celebrates the heroes of doubt — people such as Confucius, Socrates, Jesus, Wang Ch'ung, Hypatia, Maimonides, Galileo, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Emily Dickinson, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Margaret Sanger — who drove history forward by challenging the powers and conventional wisdom of their time and heritage.
Hecht views the history of doubt as not only a tradition of challenging accepted religious beliefs, including the existence of God, but also as a progression of attempts to make sense of life, the natural world, and the self, each on their own terms. She shows that the great doubters ponder the same ultimate issues as the great believers: "We live in a meaning-rupture because we are human and the universe is not." Both doubters and believers have to confront this rupture. Doubt: A History reveals for the first time how the doubters bravely and inventively came up with their own answers to life's big questions.
In the tradition of grand sweeping histories such as From Dawn To Decadence, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and A History of God, Hecht champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind especially-from Socrates to Galileo and Darwin to Wittgenstein and Hawking. This is an account of the world's greatest ‘intellectual virtuosos,' who are also humanity's greatest doubters and disbelievers, from the ancient Greek philosophers, Jesus, and the Eastern religions, to modern secular equivalents Marx, Freud and Darwin—and their attempts to reconcile the seeming meaninglessness of the universe with the human need for meaning,
This remarkable book ranges from the early Greeks, Hebrew figures such as Job and Ecclesiastes, Eastern critical wisdom, Roman stoicism, Jesus as a man of doubt, Gnosticism and Christian mystics, medieval Islamic, Jewish and Christian skeptics, secularism, the rise of science, modern and contemporary critical thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, the existentialists.
The great doubters and their legacy of innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Jefferson and Wittgenstein. A fascinating account of how doubt has been the driving force in the intellectual and religious history of the world.
About the Author
Jennifer Michael Hecht is an accomplished historian and an award-winning poet. Her book, The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology in France, has been recently published by Columbia University Press. And The Next Ancient World, her book of poetry, won the Poetry Society of America's prestigious Norma Farber First Book Award for 2002, the Tupelo Prize, and ForeWord's Poetry Book of the Year. She is the co-author of a popular introduction to Western Civilization. Hecht earned her Ph.D. in the history of science from Columbia University and is an assistant professor of history at Nassau Community College.
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