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The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century

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From Freud to Babbitt, from Animal Farm to Sartre to the Great Society, from the Theory of Relativity to counterculture to Kosovo, The Modern Mind is encyclopedic, covering the major writers, artists, scientists, and philosophers who produced the ideas by which we live. Peter Watson has produced a fluent and engaging narrative of the intellectual tradition of the twentieth From Freud to Babbitt, from Animal Farm to Sartre to the Great Society, from the Theory of Relativity to counterculture to Kosovo, The Modern Mind is encyclopedic, covering the major writers, artists, scientists, and philosophers who produced the ideas by which we live. Peter Watson has produced a fluent and engaging narrative of the intellectual tradition of the twentieth century, and the men and women who created it.


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From Freud to Babbitt, from Animal Farm to Sartre to the Great Society, from the Theory of Relativity to counterculture to Kosovo, The Modern Mind is encyclopedic, covering the major writers, artists, scientists, and philosophers who produced the ideas by which we live. Peter Watson has produced a fluent and engaging narrative of the intellectual tradition of the twentieth From Freud to Babbitt, from Animal Farm to Sartre to the Great Society, from the Theory of Relativity to counterculture to Kosovo, The Modern Mind is encyclopedic, covering the major writers, artists, scientists, and philosophers who produced the ideas by which we live. Peter Watson has produced a fluent and engaging narrative of the intellectual tradition of the twentieth century, and the men and women who created it.

30 review for The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    This is a splendid intellectual history of 20th century ideas but I'm wondering if there's any point in me finishing it as I believe my brain is actually full. I'm very concerned that every time I learn a new fact I have to forget an old one. And the one I forget might be something significant. I don't want to have to stop a policeman on the streets of Nottingham and say "Excuse me officer, could you please tell me where I live and perhaps take me back there? And on the way I'll tell you about S This is a splendid intellectual history of 20th century ideas but I'm wondering if there's any point in me finishing it as I believe my brain is actually full. I'm very concerned that every time I learn a new fact I have to forget an old one. And the one I forget might be something significant. I don't want to have to stop a policeman on the streets of Nottingham and say "Excuse me officer, could you please tell me where I live and perhaps take me back there? And on the way I'll tell you about Schrodinger's Cat, I just read about it, completely fascinating...."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    What a whopper of a book (more than 800 pages)! After 20 pages I thought I never would reach the end: this is an encyclopedic accumulation of known persons that made the 20th Century. But still I continued reading and after 3 months of toil, I have to say: hats off to the erudition of Watson! Especially the last part is meritorious, because it creates order in the cultural production of the last decades of that century. Remains the justified criticism that there is no real line in the story. Wat What a whopper of a book (more than 800 pages)! After 20 pages I thought I never would reach the end: this is an encyclopedic accumulation of known persons that made the 20th Century. But still I continued reading and after 3 months of toil, I have to say: hats off to the erudition of Watson! Especially the last part is meritorious, because it creates order in the cultural production of the last decades of that century. Remains the justified criticism that there is no real line in the story. Watson himself in his introduction presents as a red wire the real breakthrough of scientific thinking. That is certainly true, but in the book itself that is not given sufficient attention. The biggest reproach to Watson is that he is confined to Western thought; in the light of Nine Eleven, for example, it is really a pity he didn't integrate the developments within the islamic world, and that goes for other regions too.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Loring Wirbel

    One approaches a massive tome with big ambitions under the assumption that the author probably covered the territory rather well, but it's rare to find something as satisfying in multiple dimensions as 'The Modern Mind.' Jacket blurbs and some reviews suggest dipping into this work in encyclopedic fashion, in a manner similar to dabbling with 'The Autobiography of Mark Twain.' No way. The author is telling an important story of the 20th century, one that deserves a straightforward read, even if One approaches a massive tome with big ambitions under the assumption that the author probably covered the territory rather well, but it's rare to find something as satisfying in multiple dimensions as 'The Modern Mind.' Jacket blurbs and some reviews suggest dipping into this work in encyclopedic fashion, in a manner similar to dabbling with 'The Autobiography of Mark Twain.' No way. The author is telling an important story of the 20th century, one that deserves a straightforward read, even if such a read sounds daunting at 772 pages. When I give this five stars, it means five solid stars, one of the most fascinating nonfiction books I've ever read. One of Watson's critical points is disclosed in the introduction. He charges the cultural-literati side of the intellectual elite with making itself obsolete by ignoring or at best passing over the achievements of science in the past century. In the conclusion, Watson expands upon this by saying the traditional philosophy and liberal-arts-studies intellectuals got so hung up with Marx and Freud, they forgot where the important work was coming from. When some in the 1990s complained there were no "public intellectuals" any longer, they didn't realize that this function was no longer served by the likes of Sartre and Daniel Bell, but by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Jay Gould. In essence, the liberal-arts vanguard ceded this space to the scientists. But don't think that Watson gives literature or traditional philosophy short shrift in his review of the 20th century. He gives all dimensions of intellectual pursuits equal opportunity. And he covers the important literature coming out of Africa, India, and the Middle East. But in so doing, he comes to an important and critical conclusion. Watson and his editors went out of their way to be multicultural along several fronts, only to find that most scientific, literary, philosophical "new ideas" of the 20th century did indeed come out of the realm of "dead white guys" - the Western world. Watson gives fair shakes to everyone from Noam Chomsky to Edward Said who criticize this outlook, but he still comes to the conclusion that the Western nations increased their lead in new ideas during the last century. The biggest factor influencing this, Watson says, is the role of religious fundamentalism, or even open-minded traditionalism of the Hindu or Confucian variety. Where emotional attachment to traditional faith endures, he says, new ideas wither on the vine. This is particularly true of Islam since the 1970s, he says, which is a shame. You don't have to fully subscribe to Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' to realize that Islam has a problem with reinvention. Watson's coverage of the early century and the post-WW1 period is exciting and refreshing, particularly in the way he looks to movements like Dada as deliberate infusions of primitivism into a culture that has been too hung up in its own self-examination. Watson does not go so far as to say barbarism is a nice antidote to too much classicism, though it's clear he likes the whimsical subversion of Dada, the Beats, situationism, punks, etc. Later in the book, he gently chides Allan Bloom for his book "Closing of the American Mind," for its assumption that rock music was a horrible dumb-downer for classical music, and that the cultural world of the Greeks and Romans represented a pinnacle that was never recovered. Watson doesn't poke direct fun of Bloom, but suggests he should hang out with the barbarians a little more. For someone who thinks both Freud and Marx were stultifying time-wasters for the academic mainstream, Watson gives the psychoanalysts and class-analysts fair coverage throughout the book. He also gives existentialists and post-modernists proper due, though he clearly thinks they wasted a lot of time in the past century. Sometimes, Watson covers the likes of Hayek and Friedman enough to make one think he might be libertarian, though he makes clear in the conclusion that he is not a laissez-faire capitalist of the Austrian school. In that sense, my views are very close to Watson's. He says that Marx provided an interesting way of looking at inequality and exploitation, before Lenin and Stalin destroyed anything worthy in Marx's views. He says that Freud and Jung provided an interesting way of examining consciousness, though the 1990s studies of neural-networks and self-organizing sentience (not to mention the biochemical basis of mental disease), pretty much trashed most Freudian theory. Watson provides a careful analysis of how modernist and post-modernist culture affected intellectual development in the last 40 years of the 20th century, without becoming one of those pessimistic hand-wringers who think television and the Internet have dumbed us down. His conclusion, 'The Positive Hour,' is downright optimistic in the face of the tough environmental and economic challenges our species faces in the 21st century. If the traditional cultural-literate academia would tone down the Foucault and Derrida a little bit and study their science and math, Watson suggests, we'd all be a little better off. In that sense, I could chide Watson for not covering enough 'science-centered fiction' among the authors that have done just what he suggested - Vonnegut, LeGuin,and Pynchon in the early years, followed by Stephenson, Gibson, Powers, Sterling, D.F. Wallace, etc. at century's end. If Watson would have covered a little more punk, cyberpunk, and future-nihilist literature-culture of the 1970s through 1990s, his conclusion might have been even more optimistic about our chances to continue our development as a species. The trick is to listen to the classicists a little less, and the barbarians a little more. I found myself so much in agreement with many of Watson's points, I almost hated to finish this marvelous, whimsical, and occasionally downright humorous review of intellectual pursuit.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Todd N

    This is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. I am always curious about the history of ideas and how influential ideas can be so pervasive in our lives as to be almost invisible. This book starts with the discovery (and re-discovery in some instances) of the gene, quantum, and subconscious in 1900 and works its way through the century as people wrestle with Freud, Darwin, and Marx. Along the way, Watson identifies science, the free market, and mass media as the most important forces. This is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. I am always curious about the history of ideas and how influential ideas can be so pervasive in our lives as to be almost invisible. This book starts with the discovery (and re-discovery in some instances) of the gene, quantum, and subconscious in 1900 and works its way through the century as people wrestle with Freud, Darwin, and Marx. Along the way, Watson identifies science, the free market, and mass media as the most important forces. At the end he suggests a new canon which is the combined story of the origin of the universe through to today informed by advances in science and anthropology and illuminated by culture and history. It has changed the way I think about the way that I think.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    A real doorstopper, this is, and rather dense. After 20 pages I thought I would never get through it: it is an encyclopaedic accumulation of especially well-known names, without much line. But I persisted and after 3 months of toil, I have to say: hats off for the erudition of Watson! The last part in particular is brilliant, because it creates order in the cultural production of the last decades of the twentieth century. The justified criticism remains that there is no real line in the story. I A real doorstopper, this is, and rather dense. After 20 pages I thought I would never get through it: it is an encyclopaedic accumulation of especially well-known names, without much line. But I persisted and after 3 months of toil, I have to say: hats off for the erudition of Watson! The last part in particular is brilliant, because it creates order in the cultural production of the last decades of the twentieth century. The justified criticism remains that there is no real line in the story. In his introduction, Watson himself gives as a common thread the real breakthrough of scientific thinking. That is certainly true, but it is only sideways applied in the book itself. The biggest reproach to Watson is that he limits himself to western thinking; in the light of Nineleven, for example, it is incomprehensible that he does not address developments within Islam. (I'm giving 3 stars for the bold efford Watson made, although on my scale it deserves a lower rating).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sally Morem

    I loved it. All that great intellectual history, not just derived from philosophy and the arts, but from science, technology, politics, and the great disasters of the 20th century. A feast for any intellectual of any political persuasion.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Did you ever see a 10-foot pointillism painting by Seurat and not recognize the picture until you stepped way back from the canvass? Did you ever assemble one of those tile mosaic kits and not know if you did it right until you backed away? Peter Watson is an intellectual historian at Cambridge and he summarized the works of the leading minds of the past century and tries to piece together a coherent narrative of the past century. These fragments became part of a mosaic in his hands. This is a his Did you ever see a 10-foot pointillism painting by Seurat and not recognize the picture until you stepped way back from the canvass? Did you ever assemble one of those tile mosaic kits and not know if you did it right until you backed away? Peter Watson is an intellectual historian at Cambridge and he summarized the works of the leading minds of the past century and tries to piece together a coherent narrative of the past century. These fragments became part of a mosaic in his hands. This is a history of man’s thoughts, and rather than the focus being on great men or on socioeconomic forces, Watson found the driving force for ideas was clearly science. Our past century was dominated by our coming to terms with science, and not just physical science. Man looked inside himself through psychology in ways he had not been able to before, and we also saw a marked decline of formal religion and rise of individualism. If you like ‘Big Picture stories,’ this book is for you. Thoreau warned us not to read the newspapers because it would only distract us from the more meaningful events. I believe he said: If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked. . . . - we need never read of another. One is enough. I believe he also said this was important to preserve the mind’s ‘chastity.’ Watson’s Modern Mind is that effort to step back from the barrage of day to day events and try to see where the major trend lines are taking us.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Boudewijn

    A grand overview (more than 700 pages) overview of the developments in arts and science, starting from Freud to the modern time. Although not everything did resonate with me, it was well worth the effort.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    This book serves two purposes. First, it provides a meta-narrative of 20th-century intellectual history that ties together the scientific, artistic, and socioeconomic trends of the last 100 years into an overarching story of increasing individualism and alienation. On that count, it satisfyingly explains over the course of 800 small-print pages what countless other authors have explored in-depth in 200 or 300 pages. Second, it gives the reader a jumping-off point for literally hundreds of possib This book serves two purposes. First, it provides a meta-narrative of 20th-century intellectual history that ties together the scientific, artistic, and socioeconomic trends of the last 100 years into an overarching story of increasing individualism and alienation. On that count, it satisfyingly explains over the course of 800 small-print pages what countless other authors have explored in-depth in 200 or 300 pages. Second, it gives the reader a jumping-off point for literally hundreds of possible new reads. Personally, I'm now picking up Gilbert Ryle's Concept of Mind, Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Wittgenstein's , and Lewis's Babbitt--a wide range of books I probably never would've thought about tackling before (this is in addition to the new art and music I'm trying to learn how to better appreciate).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Philipp

    It took me what, 7 months to read this book? It's a massive book trying to summarize the history of knowledge in the 20th century, ending with the rise of "pop-science-books" and starting with The history of the 20th century is not easy and as such, this book is not really "bed-lecture" to be easily digested: it's not uncommon that the authors throws ten names at you in one paragraph. Sometimes the ideas are hard to comprehend, but Watson always does a good job to explain everything in laymen's It took me what, 7 months to read this book? It's a massive book trying to summarize the history of knowledge in the 20th century, ending with the rise of "pop-science-books" and starting with The history of the 20th century is not easy and as such, this book is not really "bed-lecture" to be easily digested: it's not uncommon that the authors throws ten names at you in one paragraph. Sometimes the ideas are hard to comprehend, but Watson always does a good job to explain everything in laymen's terms, from arts to literature to economics to biology to physics, not much gets left out. But the book keeps on throwing knowledge at you, there is no time wasted - I feel like I stored maybe 1% of the contained knowledge in my brain. During reading I got the impression that this book focuses mostly on the west's ideas and concepts, and Watson has a few apologetic paragraphs on this in the end, explaining that most of the new concepts that led us into this golden age have indeed developed in the west - I can't really debate him on that. I'm a biologist, and most of our groundbreaking stuff (DNA-helix, PCR, sequencing machines..) have indeed been developed in the west. I did enjoy some takedowns, for example I've been taught in High School that Freud was mostly right (German classes! A lot of Mann's and other German authors' works draw heavily from Freud's (dream-)symbolism!), but here the evidence to the contrary is presented (Jung was wrong, too). One of the biggest takeaways I took from this book is how no idea comes about on its own - everything is based on previous ideas, nothing is 100% new. I would recommend this book to everyone eager to learn where our "modern" ideas (or mental models?) come from - definitely not recommended for people who can't concentrate for longer than 5 minutes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lisajean

    I enjoyed every page! Very engaging and well put together.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Narendran

    I had finished this book long long time back and was looking at my library, and realized I haven't put note on this remarkable book. I started Peter Watson with 'Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud' which is a seminal book on the ideas which shaped human culture, and this is another master piece on art, intellectual, scientific and technological history of 20th century. The narrative is brilliant, the content rich and thick, at the same time a pleasant, enriching read. I had finished this book long long time back and was looking at my library, and realized I haven't put note on this remarkable book. I started Peter Watson with 'Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud' which is a seminal book on the ideas which shaped human culture, and this is another master piece on art, intellectual, scientific and technological history of 20th century. The narrative is brilliant, the content rich and thick, at the same time a pleasant, enriching read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jafar Isbarov

    20th century was...huge. It bore the most children ever; it killed the most soldiers ever. It wrote the most words ever; it burnt the most books ever. It unearthed the most history ever; it brushed aside the most traditions ever. Studying it, in proper sense of the word, is an ideal to strive for only if it is understood to be out of reach. Few books make me feel as indebted to the author. The amount of dedication and hard work put into this years-long project is daunting; even more so, once you 20th century was...huge. It bore the most children ever; it killed the most soldiers ever. It wrote the most words ever; it burnt the most books ever. It unearthed the most history ever; it brushed aside the most traditions ever. Studying it, in proper sense of the word, is an ideal to strive for only if it is understood to be out of reach. Few books make me feel as indebted to the author. The amount of dedication and hard work put into this years-long project is daunting; even more so, once you read the book. Peter Watson is one of few, if not only, credible people who could write this book. Why am I emphasizing these? Because Modern Mind is an important book; it occupies an important niche. As the subtitle suggests, Modern Mind is an intellectual history of 20th century. In 800 pages Watson gives an account of intellectual torrents and their influences from western point of view. He successfully avoids writing an anthology of mini-biographies and instead concentrates on actual historical processes. I would not say Watson has Western bias here. World itself, after all, was and still, to a considerable extent, is Euro-centric. As I read through a quarter of the book, however, patterns started to appear. Book got repetitive - not in content, but in style and approach. It did make me think how great a project this could be, if it was written by various authors or at least in several volumes. But these shortcomings, as important as they may be, are matters of circumstances. I do not know much about the backstage anyway. Whatever Peter Watson had, or chose to have, in his hands, he has utilized them fittingly. I cannot emphasizing this enough, Modern Mind is a daring enterprise. For that alone, Peter Watson deserves an applause. And he has gone well beyond an attempt, written a book with no rival whatsoever. But it still does leave me hoping that, equipped with Watson's pioneering work, similar projects will be attempted in near future.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Manderson

    This compendium of modern thought and intellectual achievement is a remarkably breezy read, given that it could just as easily have been a dry and nauseating regurgitation of lists and names. Watson strings a tight narrative out of the history of modern man, providing a compelling perspective of the evolution in arts, sciences, and providing both caution and hope for future human achievement. Watson delves not only into humanity's heights of innovation, but also the stark and abject failures of This compendium of modern thought and intellectual achievement is a remarkably breezy read, given that it could just as easily have been a dry and nauseating regurgitation of lists and names. Watson strings a tight narrative out of the history of modern man, providing a compelling perspective of the evolution in arts, sciences, and providing both caution and hope for future human achievement. Watson delves not only into humanity's heights of innovation, but also the stark and abject failures of modern culture, such as the Holocaust and the continuing racism in the United States. The only section that draws my criticism is the Epilogue, which I could have done without. It is heavy-handed and is the only part where Watson allows his opinion and interpretation to run out of the bounds of restraint. It also makes the book feel even more dated than it needs to, given his foreboding speculation about post-modernism, which by now seems passé. All in all, I enjoyed this book, and am considering purchasing it for future reference purposes. It brought home to me just how embedded our current thought is in historical discourse. Keeping this history of the evolution of human thought fresh in mind is useful in looking at current debates and articulating a progressive vision for the future.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tso William

    Reading this book is like having a buffet. There is so many brilliant ideas to consume that you felt you are over-feeding yourself without knowing it. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This article reviews two masterpieces of intellectual history: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (by Jacques Barzun) and The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century (by Peter Watson) R Reading this book is like having a buffet. There is so many brilliant ideas to consume that you felt you are over-feeding yourself without knowing it. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This article reviews two masterpieces of intellectual history: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (by Jacques Barzun) and The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century (by Peter Watson) Reading intellectual history is like looking out at the window when the plane takes off. The colossal buildings become smaller and smaller until they are no more than little blocks of lego. It is then you realize how those distinct and individual blocks are connected through streets and roads, so that a coherent image of cityscape begins to emerge. Intellectual history is such a bird’s eye view of the whole intellectual landscape. A good work of intellectual history should narrate the development of ideas with acute observations and describe the landscape of ideas in a concise and understandable manner. The historian can not satisfy himself in detailing the concepts of an idea; otherwise it is simply encyclopedic. He can neither ignore the range of forces that propel the evolvements of ideas. Personalities, social changes, history and intellectual climate must be all taken into account. A historian walks along a tightrope. He must balance between purely writing encyclopedic entries of ideas and narrating an overly simplistic historical account. Two particular works stand out in these respects: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (by Jacques Barzun) and The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century (by Peter Watson). From Dawn to Decadence starts the story from the year 1500 – a defining year in the Western history. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 signified the end of the rivalry between the Vatican Pope and Orthodox Patriarch. Columbus discovered America in 1492 and that marked the beginning of the end of the mediterranean politics in the Old World. In other words, Barzun’s work describes and narrates Western cultural life at periods that prospered and began to dominate the world. Watson’s Modern Mind begins where Barzun has thinly covered: 20th century. For me, the 20th century is particularly important for a very simple reason: it is the century that is most chronologically relevant, and whose ideas have the most immediate impact in our present time. Watson offered a more sophisticated reason. Unlike previous centuries, science in 20th century not only played the dominant role but other fields of inquiry, including anthropology, mathematics, history, genetics and linguistics, all came together to tell one coherent story about the natural world. Barzun followed a roughly chronological line with each part and chapter devoting to a particular cultural theme of the periods. The work is divided into four parts that started from Luther’s Ninety-five theses to ‘demotic’ life and times in our present age. A glance at the content will show chapter titles like ‘The Good Letters’ and ‘The Artist is Born’ for the Renaissance period and ‘The Reign of Etiquette’ and ‘The Encyclopedic Century’ for the Enlightenment age. The narrative story is expanded horizontally through different ‘cross-sections’ such as the views from Madrid and London around 1540 and 1715 respectively. These are intended to provide the flavor or the geist of the times. These parts, chapters and cross-sections are interspersed with loose and recurring remarks, like primitivism, boredom, abstraction, analysis, specialism, self-consciousness and emancipation. Superficially, these mark as the features of Western civilization but Barzun often used them for idiosyncratic observations. For example, boredom was primarily responsible for the shift of tastes while primitivism and emancipation embodied in notions like Protestantism and ‘Noble Savage’ ally with each to break the existing chains. Barzun’s approach to intellectual history is best described as deeply learned but provocative. He revealed his deep learning and willingness to disturb common notions when he argued that Leonardo da Vinci, though a genius in science and art, does not deserve the title of Renaissance man because, if we are to understand the Renaissance culture in its proper historical light, a Renaissance man must be also good at ‘good letters’ (poems and orations), sculpting, architecture and music – areas that Leonardo da Vinci did not necessarily excel. Such observation, among many others, shows characteristics of the Annales School as he seeks to bring forth the cultural and historical complexities behind ideas. However this approach can sometimes be pedantic and bring conservative conclusions. Barzun made much distinctions between utopia and eutopia and between democratic and demotic. Most pedantic of all is that ‘Bagehot’ in Walter Bagehot must be pronounced as ‘Badjet‘. Some observations are interesting but also conservative. He analyzed the word ‘man’ and argued, with Biblical references, linguistic Sanskrit roots and historical facts, that it included both man and woman, so that by implication, the polemics of the feminists are not well-justified. Moreover he listed out distinguished women, such as Queen Elizabeth and Margaret of Navarre, as proof that women played a historical role not less prominent than men. Barzun can often explain cultural ideas in clear and lucid manner but he showed a tendency to write highly dense prose that suggests his relative inexpertise in certain areas. He can explain Romanticism and clearly distinguish realism from naturalism. However in music, he vaguely described polyphony and harmony and then mixed in some jargons that suggested paraphrasing from secondary works. Very often, he crammed so much references in a single sentence that they are destined to be ignored or forgotten. Like a feng shui master, Barzun traced the flow of ideas in the last 500 years. In a more soldierly manner, Watson concentrated his fire on the 20th century – the century that most of us have lived through. Again, Watson followed a roughly chronological line that traced the rise of Freudianism in the early 20th century to Stephen Hawkins’ A Brief History of Time. He divided the story into four parts with numerous little digestible chapters that group ideas loosely into a theme. The four parts described four periods: before World War 1, inter-wars period, after World War 2, and from 1970s onward. Like whirlwind, he covered a wide range of topics in each chapter, encompassing music, arts, literature, mathematics, philosophy, particle/atomic/astro- physics, genetic/evolutionary biology, chemistry, cosmology, political theories, economics, sociology, anthropology, ethnology, historiography and whatnot. The breath of knowledge that Watson displays is immense, and this bring outs some relationship between ideas that I have never thought of. I did not realize that Wittgenstein’s philosophy is related to Skinner’s psychology insofar that they were committed to the positivist trend. Neither did I realize that Cubism was, in some measures, a response to the distorted reality as revealed by the dramatic discovery of subatomic particles in physics. Only an aerial view of the flows of idea could show such connections. Nevertheless, not all those connections are reasonable. Sometimes Watson grouped ideas too loosely and made some superficial connections. In the chapter ‘Cold Comfort’, for example, he believed that he already made a theme by repeating the chapter title, ‘cold comfort’, several times. In ‘Local Knowledge’, he introduced the views of several philosophers relating to the relationship between science and philosophy but his comparisons among the views constitute several vague remarks in the beginning of the sentences. The problem is that Watson packed his prose with too much information. Even in the concluding chapter, Watson continued to stuff in with information. I occasionally felt information overload. As a result, there is little space left for Watson to step back and see the overall picture. He did identify science, free-market economics, and mass media as the driving forces, but the actual interactions among them were less clear as he was busy outlining the details of the ideas for the bulk of the story. Nevertheless, he relaxed his pace by occasionally narrating anecdotes. He recounted the rivalries between scientists, especially the space race in the Cold War, and, in one instance, narrated the love story between Heiddeger and Arendt. These made the information much more memorable than the sometimes crammed sentences in Barzun’s work. One inadequacy is Watson’s excessive reliance on secondary works. Reliance per se is necessary and desirable because no one can be expertise in everything. However he sometimes ‘pillages, précised and paraphrased shamelessly’ (his own words) by not rendering the difficult ideas into more understandable forms. His entry on the origin of life account by Cairns-Smith is so layered with scientific jargons that it suggested he simply copied and pasted the key words from another author. His account on antibiotics is similarly obscure and difficult to understand. Without doubts he can write clearly, but he also needs to digest the ideas. Overall, Barzun and Watson show different tendencies. Barzun excelled his job at narrating intellectual history with some over-arching themes in his mind, but he is occasionally inept at outlining concepts in an understandable or meaningful manner. Watson tended to write in an encyclopedic manner but his concise chapters, mostly coherent and thematic, saved him from being unduly pedantic. One common pitfall is that none of them can be an expertise at every fields. This is not their faults. It is rather the constraints of writing an ambitious volume all by themselves. There is a tradeoff between a single-author volume with a guiding vision or a multi-authors volume with a less focused theme. Both Barzun and Watson consulted secondary sources to overcome their relative inexpertise, but as we have seen, the result is sometimes less than satisfactory. Perhaps a solution is to have a framework set out by a guiding editor with details filled in by specialists. These criticisms should in no way undermine the grand projects that both Barzun and Watson have accomplished. It is easier to point the finger at something to criticize than to construct anything. Both Barzun and Watson painted a panoramic picture of the Western civilization that few can parallel. Now that we have seen the historical flow of ideas, it is time to see the philosophical flow in Anthony Kenny’s A New History of Western Philosophy. From: http://1989nineteeneightynine.wordpre...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    Brilliant comprehensive and balanced intellectual history of the 20th century that complements his other volume that covers from the beginning to 1900: From Fire to Freud.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stone

    I am actually grateful that someone on this very planet has actually taken the time and effort to read and review all these important works and ideas, and collected, organised, compared then summarised them here in this book. This book has its unequalled weight and might not because it has made any major breakthrough in some areas that blew people's mind, but because it has critically looked at other contributions in a scientific, historical and philosophical way, comprehensively. What I read wa I am actually grateful that someone on this very planet has actually taken the time and effort to read and review all these important works and ideas, and collected, organised, compared then summarised them here in this book. This book has its unequalled weight and might not because it has made any major breakthrough in some areas that blew people's mind, but because it has critically looked at other contributions in a scientific, historical and philosophical way, comprehensively. What I read was not simply ideas compiled together but extract and essence of the modern mind from different sources, like a massive book review containing all the important ideas from the 20th century. It allows you to have a general bird-eye view, from above, at the structure, colour, reactions, and development of this furnace of a century which started to boil/unsettle since the scientific discovery unseen by human eyes, which rocked the very foundation of religion and all the other old sacred system and authority, and turned every single aspects upside down for art, politics, economy, history, architecture, even science itself, and at the same time generated a lot more new perspectives into the picture. You get to understand behind all the ostensible presentations, there are multiple deeper causes and effects. How all these ever changing trends, phenomena, desires, groups, and insights came into being and eventually how people feel, act and think differently in every generation under different societal influences. Throughout the line, this book expressed its worship for the mind, but its pessimism regarding the strength of art, literature, as well as philosophy, which used to be the so dominant with their insightful advancement but the recent glitch in terms of innovation, reflection and retrospect, under this post-modernistic data-/fact-driven exponentially-growing scientific/analytic/mathematical generation. Quotes: Everything fell into parts, the parts again into more parts. How can rationalism succeed when the irrational the instinctive is such a dominant part of life? Is reason really the way forward? Instinct is an older more powerful force. Max Webber. Puzzled by how people evinced a drive toward the accumulation of wealth but at the same time showed “ferocious asceticism” Kardinsky. One thing became clear to me: that objectiveness, the depiction of objects, needed no place in my paintings, and was indeed harmful to them. William James. Throughout the century, there were those philosophers who drew their concepts from ideal situations: they tried to fashion a worldview and a code of conduct in thought and behavior that derived from a theoretical, ‘clear’ or ‘pure’ situation where equality, say or freedom was assumed as a given, and a system constructed hypothetically around that. In the opposite camp were those philosophers who started from the world as it was, with all its untidiness, inequalities, and injustices. A pragmatist turns his back to abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness, and adequacy, towards facts, action, and power. Metaphysics was regarded as primitive, way too attached to the big words “god” “matter” and the “absolute”. Dewey believed that since antiquity society has been divided into leisured and aristocratic glasses, the custodian of knowledge, and the working class, engaged in work and practical knowledge. Bakelite evolves into plastic, without which computers, as we know them today would probably not exist. Bertrand Russells. Theory of types. There are two ways of knowing the world. Acquaintance (spoon) and description (the class of spoon), a sort of secondhand knowledge. From this it follows that a description about a description is of a higher order than the description it is about. Scientists ploughed on, in search of more and more fundamental answers to the empirical problems around them. The arts and the humanities responded to these fundamental discovers where they could, but the raw and awkward truth is that the traffic was almost entirely one-way. Science informed art, not the way around. Wittgenstein- language has limitations. It is pointless to talk about value - simply because value is not part of the world. It therefore follows that all judgements about moral and aesthetic matters cannot be meaningful uses of language. The mutilated figures were gross metaphors for what would become the Weimar culture: corrupt, disfigured, with an element of the puppet, the old order still in command behind the scenes - but above all, a casualty of war. Malevich aimed to represent the simplicity, clarity, and cleanliness that he felt was a characteristic of mathematics, he beautiful simplicity of form, the essential shapes of nature, the abstract reality that lay beneath even cubism. He revolutionized painting in Russian, pushing it to the limits of form, stripping it down to simple elements the way physicists were stripping matter. The force of industrial capitalism had created a world where they felt ill at ease, where a shared culture was no longer part of the agenda, where the institutions of religion, art, science, and the state had ceased to have any communal meaning. George F Babbitt - the code of efficiency, merchandising, and “goods” - things, material possessions... these are false gods; art and religion have been perverted, in the service, always, of business. Pommer’s version of the story was the opposite of janowitz and meyer’s. The criticism of blind obedience had disappeared and, even worse, authority was shown as kindly, even safe. The irony was the pommer’s version was a great success, commercially and artistically, and film historians have often wondered whether the original version would have done as well. Though the plot was changed, the style of telling the story was not - it was still expressionistic. Expressionism was a force, an impulse to revolution and change. All philosophy can do is analyze and criticize the concepts and theories of science, so as to refine them, make them more accurate and useful. J. B. Bury - evolution was non teleological - had no political, or social, or religious significance. There would be progress without specifying in what direction progress would take place. Eric Blair - winning was the only thing that mattered at the school, and one became a winner by ‘being bigger, stronger, handsomer, richer, more popular, more elegant, more unscrupulous, than other people’. - in short ‘by getting the better of them in every way’. ‘Life is hierarchical and whatever happened was right. There were the strong who deserved to win and always did win, and there were the weak who deserved to lose and always did lose. José Ortega y Gasset - true democracy occurred only when power was voted to a ‘super minority’. What in fact was happening, he said, was ‘hyper democracy’, where average man, mediocre man, wanted power, loathed everyone not like himself and so promoted a society of ‘homogenized ... blanks’. Novelists wrote more quickly to meet the expanding demand, producing inferior works. Then in the early nineteenth century, the demand for novels written in serial form meant that novelists were forced to write more quickly still, in installments, where each installment had to end in as sensational a way as possible. Standards fell further. John Maynard Keynes and his economics theories. Max Eastman. The literary mind: its place in an age of science. Science would soon have the answer to every problem that arises. And that literature in effect had no place in such a world. Joseph schumpeter. Capitalism socialism and democracy. Capitalists themselves are not the motivating force of capitalism but instead the entrepreneurs who invent new technique or machinery Friedrich von Hayek. The three reasons why under planning, “the worst get on top”. The first one is the more highly educated people are always those who can see through arguments and don’t join the group or agree to any hierarchy of values. Second the centralizer finds it easier to appeal to the gullible and docile. And third it is easier for a group of people to agree on a negative program - on the hatred of foreigners or a different class - than on a positive one. Karl popper. There is no such thing as history. Only historical interpretation. Eugene Ionesco. “I wonder if art hasn’t reached a dead end. If indeed in its present form it hasn’t. Once writers and poets were generated as seers and prophets. They had a certain intuition a sharper sensitivity than their contemporaries. Better still they discovered things and their imaginations went beyond the discoveries even of science itself. To things science would only establish twenty five or fifty years later. Hannah Arendt. The origins of totalitarianism. The mass society led to isolation and loneliness. Normal political life deteriorate, fascism and communism drew strength, offering people with a form of political life: uniforms, denoting belonging, specific ranks, recognized and respected by others; massed rallies and experience of participation. Erich Fromm. People can’t be grouped, into revolutionary workers and no revolutionary bourgeois. Not only were some workers conservative, and some bourgeois revolutionary. But very left-wing workers often confessed to strikingly no revolutionary. W.H. Whyte. Organization man. He saw in organization a decline of the Protestant Ethics. There was a marked drop in individualism and adventurousness. The way to get on in an organization was to be part of a group, to be popular, to avoid rocking the boat. They work for somebody else, not himself. Organization man must be ‘outgoing’ by far the most important quality. The sacrifice their privacy and their idiosyncrasies and replace them with an enjoyable but unreflective lifestyle that moves from group activity to group activity and goes nowhere because one in three of such families will in any case move within a year. They’re tolerant without avarice, not entirely unaware that there are other forms of existence. His cage was gilded, but it was still a cage. Kenneth Galbraith. The shrift into high mass consumption was the best hope for peace. Not only because it created very satisfied societies who would not want to make war but also they had more to lose in an era of weapons of mass destruction. Richard Hoggart. Look back in anger. Hoggart wasn’t blind to its shortcomings or to the fact that overall British society deprived people born into the working class of the chance to escape it. “Problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by [re]arranging what we have always known.” The way forward is to rearrange the whole language. Burrhus Skinner. Science and human behavior. Reward and punishment Paul Klee 1915 “the more fearful the world becomes the more art becomes abstract.” Christopher Jencks. Inequality. Genes or IQ have relatively little effect in economic success. Educational reform cannot bring about economic or social equality. Ivan Illich. Schools far from liberating students from ignorance and teaching them then to make the most of their capacities were actually merely boring bourgeois “processing factories”. Organized anonymously. Producing ‘victims for the consumer society.’ Children should learn about farming and geography and botany in the land. Or about flight at airports or economics in factories. Marshall McLuhan. The components of alphabet. Unlike pictographs and hieroglyphics. We’re essentially meaningless and abstract. They diminished the role of the senses of hearing and touch and taste and smell. While promoting visual. As a result whole man became fragmented man. Guy Debord. The society of the Spectacle. Spectacle: sports. Rocket concerts. Staged politics. It’s function is the manufacture of alienation. Commodities are all there is to see. This is the final form of alienation because prod think they are enjoying themselves but are in reality passive spectators. John Rawls. Theory of justice. Original position. Veil of ignorance. All social values. Liberty and opportunity. Income and wealth. And the bases of self respect. Are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any is to everyone’s advantage. The fact that so much of life was indoors fostered the development of furniture. Which brought about the development of tools. The poorer weather meant that fewer days could be worked but mouths still had to be fed. Making Labour in Europe relatively more expensive. This led to a greater need for Labour saving devices. Which contributed to the development of tools and to scientific and industrial revolution. Daniel Bell. The cultural contradictions of capitalism. The tension between bourgeois society and modernism. Modernism through the avant-garde. Was always attaching bourgeois society (the rejection of the past, the commitment to ceaseless change. And the idea that nothing is sacred.). And the tension between morality (legal rights of ownership and property over all other claims) and the “market”. “Once the experience is over. It is over. There is no dialogue to be continued inside the head of the members. Modern society has no culture.” Liberation is personal, not political, and therefore resolution is to be found in changing society by creating first set of individuals who are different, free from “performance principle”. Mark Philp. We now know what the normal child is. What a stable mind is. A good citizen. Or the perfect wife. In describing normality, these sciences and their practitioners define deviation. These laws of speech, of economic rationality, of social behavior, define who we are. Jacques Derrida. The words themselves have a history that is greater than any one person’s experience of those words, and do anything anyone says is almost bound to mean more than that person means. Roland Barthes. The death of the author. The intention of an author of a text do not matter in interpreting that text. An author therefore simply cannot predict what meaning his work will have for others. Peter Brook. At its origin, theatre was an act of healing, of healing the city. According to the action of fundamental, entropic forces, no city can avoid fragmentation. But when the population assembled together in a special place under special conditions to partake in a mystery, the scattered limbs are drawn together, and a momentary healing reunites the larger body, in which each member re-membered, finds it place ... hunger, violence, gratuitous cruelty, rape, crime - these are constant companions in the present time. Theatre can penetrate at the very same moment affirm that light is present in darkness. J.K.Galbraith. The culture of Contentment. Mid 1970s Western democracies accepted mixed economy, and with that went economic social progress. A prominent class has emerged, rich and materially comfortable. Which instead of try to help the poor, they develop a whole infrastructure - politically and intellectually, to marginalize and demonize them. A blindness and deafness among the “contented” to the growing problems of society. "In mass society the more profound truths are often revealed in less compelling and less entertaining forms, in particular through statistics. " Jean-Francois Lyotard. The postmodern condition. The most important form of knowledge that isn’t scientific is knowledge about self. It produces knowledge that is abstract in character. Richard Rorty. What philosophy can hope to be. It is an activity attempting to reach areas of human experiences that science will never be able to conquer. "It should be conversational than a system of thought. " David Harvey. The condition of postmodernity. Confidence in the association between scientific and moral judgements has collapsed, aesthetic has triumphed over ethics as a prime focus of social and intellectual concern, image dominated narratives, ephemerality and fragmentation take precedence over eternal truths and unified politics, and explanations have shifted from realm of material and political-economic groundings to a consideration of autonomous cultural and political practices. Richard Dawkins. Memes. John Maddox. No amount of introspection can enable a person to discover just which set of neurons in which part of his or her head is executing some thought process. Such information seems to hidden from the human user. Tom Stoppard. The information superhighway seems to promise diversity but its effect will be to eliminate marginalize or to trivialize anything not instantly appealing to the mass.. we are learning to believe that we do not require wisdom community provocation suggestion chastening enlightenment. That we only need information for all the world as if life were a packaged kit and we consumers lacking only the assembly instructions. The Essence of philosophy is the abandonment of all authority in flavor of individual human reason. Martin Bernal. The Afro Asia tic roots of classical civilisation. The view of Greece was standard and it had always prevailed in European scholars. Until it was deliberately killed off by north European scholars in early nineteen century. Who wanted to show that Europe and Northern Europe had a monopoly on creative and imaginative thought and the civilisation as we know it was born in Europe. To help justify colonialism and imperialism. David Denby. Most high schools can’t begin to compete against a torrent of imaginary and sound that makes every moment but the present seem quaint bloodless or dead. "Modernism turned into postmodernism. Relativism into nihilism. Amorality into immorality. Irrationality into insanity." Benoit Mandelbrot. Chaoplexity. Unpredictability. However close you go, the more intricate the outline, with the patterns repeated at different scales. Ian Stewart. The property of life are turning out to be physics. Not biology. The nets with raw computational ability can arise spontaneously through the workings of ordinary physics. “Evolution will then select whichever nets can carry out computational that enhance the organisms survival ability, leading to specific computation of an increasingly sophisticated kind.” John Polkinghorne. Beyond science. “Our scientific aesthetic moral and spiritual powers greatly exceed what can convincingly be claimed to be needed in the struggle for survival, and to regard them as merely fortunate but fortuitous by product of that struggle is not to treat the mystery of their existence with adequate seriousness.” Bryan Magee. Confession of s philosopher. We can know very little but have equally little ground for religious belief. "The death of literature. Humanism’s long dream of learning, of arriving at some final truth by enough reading and writing, is breaking up in our time... visual images not words, simple open meanings not complex and hidden, transient not permanence, episodes not structures, theaters not truth." "If the superstring revolution really does come to something, that something may prove very difficult for scientists to share with the rest of us. They’re already at the limit as to what metaphor can explain and we must face at least the possibility that, some day, the secrets of universe will only be truly available to those with an above-average grasps of mathematics. It is no use the rest of us saying that we don’t like the way knowledge is going." "The secret of the universe is in the existence of horizontal waves whose varied vibrations are set at the bottom of all states of consciousness. "

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kim Marshall

    This is a massive tome and an amazing achievement by it's author Peter Watson. It took me some weeks to devour it but the effort was rewarding. I must admit to being somewhat miffed that Watson has not gone back and added an addendum that would bring the book a bit up to date. In particular I miss a discussion of 9-11 or more the recent advent of science's ability to measure gravitational waves. Then of course there is the impact of cell-phones and social media on our lives and much more. But th This is a massive tome and an amazing achievement by it's author Peter Watson. It took me some weeks to devour it but the effort was rewarding. I must admit to being somewhat miffed that Watson has not gone back and added an addendum that would bring the book a bit up to date. In particular I miss a discussion of 9-11 or more the recent advent of science's ability to measure gravitational waves. Then of course there is the impact of cell-phones and social media on our lives and much more. But the book is, after all, about the 20th century and these do belong properly to the 21st. Still I miss them! Being a scientist myself I must admit to be particularly pleased with Watson's rather through treatment of this subject in the past century. Still overall I came away from this reading with a bit of a hopeless feeling. This feeling is caused by the realization that though much has changed since 1900, very little that ails our world order has really improved. The ghosts of 1939 Germany seem to me to be haunting the world even today, particularly in the US. In my mind probably the biggest event of the 20th century, with huge potential social impact, was man's first steps on the moon and our new ability to look back from space and see our planet, our only home, floating through the cold and lonely vacuum of space. On this blue watered oasis in space, one finds everyone you know, and or have ever heard of, and the billions you have not. All of these humans have lived and died or will die, here. But still we humans cannot find whatever it takes within us to put aside our differences and realize that no religious dogma, no tribal loyalty, no selfish focus, no dedication to whatever exclusive canon you may trust, will save us from ourselves. As this history of the 20th century points out again and again, we are all more alike than we are different. We ride through space with our brothers and our sisters, all. Still we are all doomed, and we will likely take much of the animal world with us, unless we accept the fact that we are all riding this same ball through space and what happens to our brothers and sisters will eventually impact us all. Getting along and taking care of our only ride through space and time is the only choice we have. That is at least if we choose to survive for much longer as a species. From Watson's conclusion: There is ... "an interesting absence (in this book) that readers may have noticed. I refer to the relative dearth of non-Western thinkers. When this book was conceived, it was my intention (and the publishers’) to make the text as international and multicultural as possible. The book would include not just European and North American – Western – ideas, but would delve into the major non-Western cultures to identify their important ideas and their important thinkers, be they philosophers, writers, scientists, or composers. I began to work my way through scholars who specialized in the major non-Western cultures: India, China, Japan, southern and central Africa, the Arab world. I was shocked (and that is not too strong a word) to find that they all (I am not exaggerating, there were no exceptions) came up with the same answer, that in the twentieth century, the non-Western cultures have produced no body of work that can compare with the ideas of the West. In view of the references throughout the book to racism, I should make it clear that a good proportion of these scholars were themselves members of those very non-Western cultures. More than one made the point that the chief intellectual effort of his or her own (non-Western) culture in the twentieth century has been a coming to terms with modernity, learning how to cope with or respond to Western ways and Western patterns of thought, chiefly democracy and science. " Watson goes on to point out that: "One person that may offer a clue to this discrepancy is Sir Vidia Naipaul. In 1981 Naipaul visited four Islamic societies – Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. ... (and) In all four places, he said, Islam drew its strength from a focus on the past that prevented development, and that very lack of development meant that the peoples of the Islamic nations could not cope in the West. The 'rage' and 'anarchy' induced by this kept them locked into the faith - and so the circle continues." For me these observations, made as they were at the close of the 20th century, were a dark and prophetic warning of what the new century would harbor. This world would witness the results of this 'rage and 'anarchy' in only the second year of the new millennium with the attacks of September 11, 2001. And this is not to mention the reaction, or should I say over reaction, that these attacks would induced from the Western world. In my mind, we westerners have a tendency to lay the fault for these actions, as terrible as they were, at the feat of all non-white and non-Anglo Saxons. When in fact the cause is deeper. It is both cultural and intellectual or perhaps more accurately anti-intellectual. Clearly, we ignore the pain and angst that this modern world brings to diverse peoples at our own peril. I must admit to being a bit shocked by this revelations. I, not being of a particularly religious bent, had never considered the psychological differences induced in the faithful by the various world religions. But in hindsight this observation is a potent one. Please believe me I am not intending to be anti-Islamic. But the truth remains these are many of the disenfranchise. And they wish to turn the clock back and push us back into a world of pre-20th century being, were they are or were more comfortable. All of this and much more I gleaned from reading this "Intellectual History of the 20th Century". It is assuredly worth the effort to read it all. But to be truthful few are likely to do so. Such effort is not in the DNA of the many of us in this modern world. But if you read nothing else you should read the concluding and final chapter of this great book. I believe and hope it alone will teach you something that will make your life a bit more worth living. I know it did this for me.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ahmed AlDulaijan

    A truly fascinating book. Watson takes the reader into epic journey in the human intellect starting from 1900 all the way through the twentieth century, stopping at 2000. It is a concise chronological encyclopedia which works great as a guide for the evolution of many concepts we speak of daily such equality, beauty, economics, experiment, etc. I only wish he had waited until 9/11, so we could've seen his take on the ideas that lead to this event. He may even have been forced to reconsider that o A truly fascinating book. Watson takes the reader into epic journey in the human intellect starting from 1900 all the way through the twentieth century, stopping at 2000. It is a concise chronological encyclopedia which works great as a guide for the evolution of many concepts we speak of daily such equality, beauty, economics, experiment, etc. I only wish he had waited until 9/11, so we could've seen his take on the ideas that lead to this event. He may even have been forced to reconsider that only Western ideas ruled the last century. Watson still stands by this opinion but I'm sure if he had given this topic the same amount of research he would've come up with different conclusions. Another problem I had with the book is the fact that he completely ignored the idea of Zionism and what it did through out the century. Of course we cannot blame him. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the effect of ideas on the course of history.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ananth Subramanian

    Talks about the great thinkers and innovations of the 20th century. It is heavy reading. However for any one one interested in learning about the ideas,innovations and thoughts that shaped the 20th century this is a authentic and good source.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Vikas Datta

    A veritable tour de force of concepts, thought and works that permeated the century... a must read for anyone who wants to chart the various tides of intellectual ferment and achievement it had... on the other hand, missed a few key ideas - liberation theology for one..

  22. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Chockful of information, but inevitably laborious. Read prudently and don't take a 6-month long break from it. Chockful of information, but inevitably laborious. Read prudently and don't take a 6-month long break from it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    superb tour through the ideas of the 20th century. every topic is treated with the same enthusiasm and verve. can become a bit overwhelming but damn it's a good book superb tour through the ideas of the 20th century. every topic is treated with the same enthusiasm and verve. can become a bit overwhelming but damn it's a good book

  24. 5 out of 5

    ShawnLeeZX

    If I would like to summarize the book in one sentence, it would be: after science gradually showed that human race is not more than a highly evolved wild animal, and the binding force of religion, and the collective survival press that build community faded away, how the race instinctively, and consciously sought a new order, which for now is elusive. The information conveyed in the book is as strong as the ones from *From Dawn to Decadence* By Jacque, and the message --- for the modern part, sin If I would like to summarize the book in one sentence, it would be: after science gradually showed that human race is not more than a highly evolved wild animal, and the binding force of religion, and the collective survival press that build community faded away, how the race instinctively, and consciously sought a new order, which for now is elusive. The information conveyed in the book is as strong as the ones from *From Dawn to Decadence* By Jacque, and the message --- for the modern part, since *Modern Mind* only discusses this part, which is in a much more detail than *Dawn --- agrees: that is, current era is the nadir of the Western civilization, where the liberty, rationality, passion, and morality, from the Reformation, Age of Reason, Age of Romantics, and Victoria periods, were torn down one by one by relativism, aesthetics, and the dark side of Darwin's discovery. The answer, though how much tentative it may be, also in a large proportion agrees. In *Dawn*, Jacque envisions human society in the future would be run by technocracy, where the mathematical thinking is the new Latin. Though the projection is of longer term, where the future that the society is run by techies is described in a rather bleak tone, giving the feeling that no exciting future seems will come from this rational thinking. In certain sense, I feel this is true, for that is what I feel. However, the zen-like calmness is not because, at least for me, I do not find the future exciting, but I realize how hard and long term it would be for societies to change by the force of science and technology, accompanying corresponding philosophy, and how tiny the human race compared with the vast universe. In *Modern Mind*, the author looks at the problems that are in the near future, and still has the hope that the advance in the western societies can help the third world, while in *Dawn*, Jacque states in a disappointing tone that the advanced would let the third world die out of the passion for war, which I do not blame the author, since that feels like the attitude of the majority of the citizens of the developed states. The answer provided in *Modern Mind* is that science can gradually unravel the domain of arts, philosophy, literature, and scientists have the potential to be the next intellectuals (though this is the opinion of Johnsman mostly, the advocate of the *Third Culture*). The language of science would give a common ground for all societies, and let them communicate and build a larger confederation than the nationalism could provide. If human society could successfully operate without inducing the bloodshed happened in the two world war, which fueled by social Darwinism, Communism, Nationalism, the common ground that could provide by science is the the most promising answer. The answer is at least not discouraging, which is also what I have in mind, though I do not want to describe it here, for the map has not been completely mapped out yet. In short, I believe things can be fixed, before the system failure, or it must be fixed. Personally, the book gave me a relief, though not a big one. In a way, I have been hunted by ghosts in the part, the Confucianism, Communism, Liberalism, Libertarianism; the ghost from the classic age, and the ideology age. It is a comfort to know these ages are gone, and it tore away the distortion lens that were placed in front of my eyes, and dispelled many confusion, or questions. In some way, I have lived at an age that is blended by the thousands of years ago one, and the one hundred years ago one. The time has changed, for better, or for worse. Science has come to rescue in the past, so it is for now. Scientists may have a much large responsibility than they carried in the past ages, which were mainly done by the public intellectuals. It is not to say that intellectuals have been replaced by scientists, which is wrong in every way, since most scientists are professionals works for reputation, or bread, but that public intellectuals and scientists have merged, and it is up to the top ones to guide the earth spaceship. The journey keeps going, for better, or for worse, but it is at least not nostalgia.

  25. 5 out of 5

    SecondMe80

    I found the book strong and even entertaining in the paragraphs where it recounts specific discoveries and inventions. As an opus total, the work is rather disappointing, as it is no more than a collection of stories about brilliant minds, sometimes interspersed with criticism of ideas that did not turn out to be quite as brilliant. However, I would have wished for a text that spans nearly 800 pages to take me, as its reader, more by the hand. Of course, Watson's style is directive in that he tel I found the book strong and even entertaining in the paragraphs where it recounts specific discoveries and inventions. As an opus total, the work is rather disappointing, as it is no more than a collection of stories about brilliant minds, sometimes interspersed with criticism of ideas that did not turn out to be quite as brilliant. However, I would have wished for a text that spans nearly 800 pages to take me, as its reader, more by the hand. Of course, Watson's style is directive in that he tells his audience what to think about certain people and aspects while he tells their story. But his overall outlook is never really made clear throughout the book, so that reading feels like following a meandering river, more than being introduced to the history of 20th century ideas. I will certainly have to get back to this book, look at my mark-ups and re-read certain passages. And that not because it is so informative, but because it is so badly conceived that I just don't remember much from the first reading. For less outstanding scholars, there is a lectorate that helps them make their argument stand our more clearly. It would have done a great deal for this book, too.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Don Powers

    What a terrific story! Watson describes the parade of ideas that have influenced human development since around 1900. He identifies the turning points when a sudden advance in understanding or a discovery alters dramatically the playing fields of science, the arts, philosophy, religion, culture. Obvious examples are "Evolution" and "Relativity" but their repercussions are multifarious and sometimes contradictory as Watson explicates them. Important to note: this massive tome should not be intimi What a terrific story! Watson describes the parade of ideas that have influenced human development since around 1900. He identifies the turning points when a sudden advance in understanding or a discovery alters dramatically the playing fields of science, the arts, philosophy, religion, culture. Obvious examples are "Evolution" and "Relativity" but their repercussions are multifarious and sometimes contradictory as Watson explicates them. Important to note: this massive tome should not be intimidating because Watson's presentation comes in bite size chunks--usually focused on an individual or a school that arises as an avant-garde, but with explosive impact (or, more commonly, with a percolating effect) that challenges first one discipline or art and then others.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Craigtator

    Over 800 pages, he name drops probably close to a thousand thinkers and discusses several hundred topics. Along the way he establishes linkages between psychology, art, literature, physics, chemistry, biology and math. It should have been called The Western Modern Mind. I have trouble believing that the Asians, Africans, and South Americans scant descriptions here reflect their contribution to twentieth century thought.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mike Eberhard

    Extraordinary book. Schlorarly, thorough, complex in that it covers so much intellectual ground, brings a huge array of thoughts together and makes sense of their importance. Not a casual read. Hard to believe one person could have organized so much complexity in a single book. Masterful. It would take an educated person 6-8 months to read it cover to cover.

  29. 4 out of 5

    David Small

    This is really a wonderful one volume survey of twentieth century arts, culture, and science. Anyone interested in where we've been for the last one hundred years will find this book indispensable. I highly recommend it. This is really a wonderful one volume survey of twentieth century arts, culture, and science. Anyone interested in where we've been for the last one hundred years will find this book indispensable. I highly recommend it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mike Eberhard

    Peter Wilson’s Intellectual History Utterly brilliant and masterly examination of 20th Century thought and almost unreadable due to the complexity of the topic. Written for experts only.

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