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Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinsonby Jennifer Mich Hecht
Synopses & Reviews
How old are you? The more thought you bring to bear on the question, the harder it is to answer. For we age simultaneously in different ways: biologically, psychologically, socially. And we age within the larger framework of a culture, in the midst of a history that predates us and will outlast us. Looked at through that lens, many aspects of late modernity would suggest that we are older than ever, but Robert Pogue Harrison argues that we are also getting startlingly younger—in looks, mentality, and behavior. We live, he says, in an age of juvenescence.
Like all of Robert Pogue Harrison's books, Juvenescence ranges brilliantly across cultures and history, tracing the ways that the spirits of youth and age have inflected each other from antiquity to the present. Drawing on the scientific concept of neotony, or the retention of juvenile characteristics through adulthood, and extending it into the cultural realm, Harrison argues that youth is essential for cultures innovative drive and flashes of genius. At the same time, however, youth—which Harrison sees as more protracted than ever—is a luxury that requires the stability and wisdom of our elders and the institutions. While genius liberates the novelties of the future,” Harrison writes, wisdom inherits the legacies of the past, renewing them in the process of handing them down.”
A heady, deeply learned excursion, rich with ideas and insights, Juvenescence could only have been written by Robert Pogue Harrison. No reader who has wondered at our culture's obsession with youth should miss it.
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.
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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