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Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
"Having given us The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century, [Watson]'s now undertaken an even more ambitious project — Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, From Fire to Freud, a bold attempt to summarize the history of ideas from prehistoric times to the early years of the 20th century....Rather than merely chronicle the history of ideas, Watson also describes various theories of contemporary scholars as to their origin and significance. By bringing us up-to-date on the thinking and research of such specialists, his book challenges what may be some of the general (nonspecialist) reader's long-held assumptions." Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
Synopses & Reviews
In this hugely ambitious and stimulating book, Peter Watson describes the history of ideas, from deep antiquity to the present day, leading to a new way of understanding our world and ourselves.
The narrative begins nearly two million years ago with the invention of hand-axes and explores how some of our most cherished notions might have originated before humans had language. Then, in a broad sweep, the book moves forward to consider not the battles and treaties of kings and prime ministers, emperors and generals, but the most important ideas we have evolved, by which we live and which separate us from other animals. Watson explores the first languages and the first words, the birth of the gods, the origins of art, the profound intellectual consequences of money. He describes the invention of writing, early ideas about law, why sacrifice and the soul have proved so enduring in religion. He explains how ideas about time evolved, how numbers were conceived, how science, medicine, sociology, economics, and capitalism came into being. He shows how the discovery of the New World changed forever the way that we think, and why Chinese creativity faded after the Middle Ages.
In the course of this commanding narrative, Watson reveals the linkages down the ages in the ideas of many apparently disparate philosophers, astronomers, religious leaders, biologists, inventors, poets, jurists, and scores of others. Aristotle jostles with Aquinas, Ptolemy with Photius, Kalidasa with Zhu Xi, Beethoven with Strindberg, Jefferson with Freud. Ideas is a seminal work.
"Watson's (The Modern Mind) hefty tome distills history's greatest ideas and inventions into an impressive discourse on history's driving forces, enlivened by anecdotes and made approachable by Watson's casual, nearly conspiratorial, tone. Watson presents a vast amount of information, but his greatest strength lies in his ability to make an immensely varied body of material coherent and digestible. The author asks the reader to approach his history 'as an alternative to more conventional history-as history with the kings and emperors and dynasties and generals left out,' and assumes 'readers will know the bare bones of historical chronology.' Central to Watson's approach is his belief that the scientific experiment, as it took root in medieval Europe, forever changed history's intellectual landscape. (Watson goes as far as labeling the scientific method 'the purest form of democracy there is.') Whereas the non-Western world once dominated intellectual spheres (The author notes that the Hindu mathematician Aryabhata calculated the value of pi and the solar year's length, determined that the earth revolved around the sun and discovered the cause of eclipses nearly a thousand years before Copernicus), Watson points to a grand-and specific-shift that changed that dynamic: 'The eleventh and twelfth centuries were a hinge period, when the great European acceleration began. From then on, the history of new ideas happened mainly in what we now call the West.' This analysis is indicative of Watson's scholarship, and the result is a rich tapestry of intellectual and cultural life through the ages." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Following prefatory remarks about the nonlinear nature of intellectual history, Watson (archeology, U. of Cambridge) traces the origins of ideas, language, cities, religion, philosophy, science, law, nationalism, and individualism. Notably, his survey encompasses non-Western as well as Western cultures, and some "little" ideas rather than only revolutionary ones. He concludes with the emergence of modern values (some misguided) and ideas about human origins, education, and the unconscious mind. The volume includes substantial reference material.
Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Book News Annotation:
Following prefatory remarks about the nonlinear nature of intellectual history, Watson (archeology, U. of Cambridge) traces the origins of ideas, language, cities, religion, philosophy, science, law, nationalism, and individualism. Notably, his survey encompasses non-Western as well as Western cultures, and some "little" ideas rather than only revolutionary ones. He concludes with the emergence of modern values (some misguided) and ideas about human origins, education, and the unconscious mind. The volume includes substantial reference material. Annotation Â©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the acclaimed author of The Modern Mind comes an absorbing overview of ideas synthesizing the intellectual and cultural history of Western thought.
About the Author
Peter Watson was educated at the universities of Durham, London, and Rome. He is the author of thirteen books, which have been translated into seventeen languages, and has presented several television programs about the arts. Since 1998 he has been a Research Associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century. He lives in London.
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