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The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself

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An original history of man's greatest adventure: his search to discover the world around him. An original history of man's greatest adventure: his search to discover the world around him.


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An original history of man's greatest adventure: his search to discover the world around him. An original history of man's greatest adventure: his search to discover the world around him.

30 review for The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself

  1. 4 out of 5

    Fergus

    This is quite a fine book about the Age of Discovery. My Dad sent it to me one Christmas around 1983, when it first appeared. He had come to understand, I think, that in my own dumb way I was a SEEKER rather than a DOER - and so he wanted to feed my heuristic seeking. So I could find my answers. All well and good - and it is a superb and factual book - but I wasn’t looking for FACTS. I was seeking answers to my own persistent questions. At that time, a middle manager, I didn’t fit into a managemen This is quite a fine book about the Age of Discovery. My Dad sent it to me one Christmas around 1983, when it first appeared. He had come to understand, I think, that in my own dumb way I was a SEEKER rather than a DOER - and so he wanted to feed my heuristic seeking. So I could find my answers. All well and good - and it is a superb and factual book - but I wasn’t looking for FACTS. I was seeking answers to my own persistent questions. At that time, a middle manager, I didn’t fit into a management mold. I was a dreamer. And my questions were many. How could I be accepted for myself? What can I do to show my coworkers that my own way was viable? And, if the answers remained negative - and their brick wall to my questioning persisted - how could I change myself? Of course, the only really constructive question of those three was the last. I had to change - by finding a Bigger Container for my questions - and, once that container was reified, fit INTO that larger mold in my everyday actions. And that’s exactly what happened. I needed more elbow room - as do all we present or former nine-to-fivers - real room to FREELY BE A REAL PERSON. I found that elbow room in my growing compassion and faith, having visualized those concrete options in meditation as the only viable ones. I had to be myself and not WORRY what others thought. But I HAD to also be a caring, hopeful, positive person. And, you know, if you dream Real Dreams you can make them happen. Reification is Key. Now, of course, this whole story for me is ancient history... But after joining GR in 2017 I saw legions of younger folks wrestling with similar problems. Problems of Identity and Character; questions about finding real Meaning in our Life and Putting it to Work for Ourself. So I decided to join in & add my two cents’ worth - In your dreams and your reading you have the key. And you know you CAN find the answers you’re looking for. You’re fully armed: And NOW, unlike the historical period of The Discoverers - Your own Discoveries will never end.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Charles Moody

    If you were going on a yearlong cruise and could take only one book, this might be my recommendation. I cannot imagine where else you could find, in a single volume, such a wealth of history organized so lucidly and written so engagingly. The title might suggest that it is the story of Columbus, Magellan, etc., and in part it is, but it is far more. It describes the step-by-step advances in human knowledge in many areas, as societies began to measure time, became determined to explore and map th If you were going on a yearlong cruise and could take only one book, this might be my recommendation. I cannot imagine where else you could find, in a single volume, such a wealth of history organized so lucidly and written so engagingly. The title might suggest that it is the story of Columbus, Magellan, etc., and in part it is, but it is far more. It describes the step-by-step advances in human knowledge in many areas, as societies began to measure time, became determined to explore and map the earth and seas, sought to catalog nature, encountered the need to record and transmit knowledge, and eventually recognized the importance of excavating and studying their own past. Even discoveries I thought I knew about became, in Boorstin’s telling, new and thrilling, because he so vividly explains and recaptures the illusions against which the particular discoverer was contending. The book is divided into wonderfully concise chapters of about 5-8 pages, and in almost every one of them I became instantly interested in the protagonist, and awed by the courage or brilliance of his discovery. In a good number of them I either found the answer to some question I had always wondered about, or found intriguing discussion of something it had never really occurred to me to wonder about -- such as why there are seven days in a week, when nothing in nature dictates it. In whole or in parts, this book can be read and reread almost endlessly.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Todd N

    It took me about six weeks to read this book because I wanted to take my time with it. The Discoverers is a history of our attempt to understand the world and our place in it. This story of science and exploration is divided into these four books: 1. Time - how attempts to measure hours and years led to examination of the sky and development of increasingly complex machines 2. The Earth And The Seas - exploration of the globe over land and sea; the discovery of New World 3. Nature - Copernican sy It took me about six weeks to read this book because I wanted to take my time with it. The Discoverers is a history of our attempt to understand the world and our place in it. This story of science and exploration is divided into these four books: 1. Time - how attempts to measure hours and years led to examination of the sky and development of increasingly complex machines 2. The Earth And The Seas - exploration of the globe over land and sea; the discovery of New World 3. Nature - Copernican system; telescope and microscope; medicine; The Royal Society; Newtonian physics 4. Society - Books, manuscript and printed; History, prehistory, and archeology; Economics and sociology; Post-Newtonian physics from atoms to electromagnetism The Discoverers covers a lot of different topics, but they are arranged in a way that the concepts and events build throughout the book. For example, long ocean voyages aren't practical until the clock is perfected. Also, a theory of evolution isn't possible until geology extends the age of the Earth far beyond the traditional age of a few thousand years. The focus is mainly on The West, meaning Europe and America, but there are also sections explaining how other cultures (mainly China and Islam) were an influence on events or why what was happening in the West wasn't happening there. I just noticed that this book was published in 1983, which I think is before the emphasis on multiculturalism was mainstream, so it might disappoint (or even offend the more delicate) people who expect a more multicultural and global focus from a historical overview. So much is covered in this book that it would be impossible to summarize. The stories that I was already familiar with -- Newton, Galileo, Darwin -- are already covered here. More interesting are the lesser known or even anonymous people who worked to illuminate our world. Looking back on this book, I noticed three interesting themes. 1. Being right isn't really necessary to push back the frontiers of knowledge. Columbus didn't understand what he discovered. Newton spent the last years of his life trying to create a chronology for the events in antiquity, including Greek legends. He wasn't successful, but his idea of using astronomy to date events eventually led to a chronology being created. Schliemann didn't find the city of Troy or Agamemnon's grave, but dramatic reports of his attempts almost singlehandedly popularized the new field of archeology. 2. The biggest obstacle to knowledge in a field is not ignorance but the existence of an already widely held understanding in that field. The influence of the ancient Greek physician Galen on anatomy is the most striking example. It turns out that Galen based his anatomy on inferences drawn from dissection of monkeys because dissection of human cadavers was forbidden. But his texts were authoritative for over fourteen centuries. Ptolemy has a similar influence on cartography and astronomy. Aristotle, of course, influences just about everything else. And then of course there is The Church. Even when not actively blocking progress, it still provides such a complete structure for the mind that it is almost like a mental prison that very few are able to escape from. 3. Lack of formal education doesn't preclude one from making significant contributions. It may even be advantageous to be an outsider. Paraclesus, who laid the foundation for disease theory, didn't have a medical degree. Faraday's insights into electromagnetism were probably possible because he wasn't formally trained in the math of Newtonian physics. Thomsen's was able to discern separate Stone, Iron, and Bronze ages because his mind wasn't influenced by the inaccurate academic theories of the day. However, everyone mentioned in the book -- credentialed or not -- read and worked constantly. I was also happy to finally learn the name for the mythical creatures who had faces in their abdomens: Blemmyae. I saw an illustration of one of these a long time ago in a history book but was unable to find a picture again. But now I have twenty or so drawings to use as an avatar. If you are curious about how we know what we know I would recommend reading this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Max

    This theme based history of how the modern world came to be is so much more engaging than the typical geopolitical event based history. Rather than learning about battles, kings and politicians we learn how ideas pursued by innovators shaped our culture. Boorstin shows us how these creative thinkers were helped or more often held back by political, religious and cultural forces and in turn how their ideas changed these forces. This wide ranging book begins with man’s first discovery, time, and f This theme based history of how the modern world came to be is so much more engaging than the typical geopolitical event based history. Rather than learning about battles, kings and politicians we learn how ideas pursued by innovators shaped our culture. Boorstin shows us how these creative thinkers were helped or more often held back by political, religious and cultural forces and in turn how their ideas changed these forces. This wide ranging book begins with man’s first discovery, time, and from there goes on to man’s discovery of the earth, nature and the functioning of human society. Boorstin takes us right up to the start of the twentieth century and along the way treats us to captivating vignettes of visionaries who radically altered our perceptions, many of whom I learned about for the first time or in a new way. The notes below touch on some of the topics I found most interesting. Since the dawn of civilization, man has depended on his understanding of the seasons. Boorstin takes us from the first primitive calendars to the invention of the mechanical clock in the 14th century. Now people could live from hour to hour. This also led to the idea of a clockwork universe. With the 17th century invention of the pendulum clock we could live from minute to minute. The 18th century invention of the chronometer which kept accurate time on pitching and rolling ships meant longitude could be accurately calculated. Now we knew where we were even in the middle of the ocean. The first steps on the path to our current hectic lives had been taken. In the second century the great Ptolemy provided the first scientific maps of the known world even estimating the earth’s circumference and the Asian landmass. He underestimated the circumference by 15% and extended Asia way too far east which would delude Columbus when Ptolemy’s geography reappeared in the West in the fifteenth century. With the Middle Ages came maps that relied on myths and bible references rather than ancient knowledge or actual experience. Thus in Christian Europe exploration beyond known bounds was considered dangerous as some evil would be lurking. Boorstin points out, “The great obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.” As he notes, “More appealing than knowledge itself is the feeling of knowing.” Christian Europe was in the Great Interruption lasting from the fourth to the fourteenth century. The Mongols opened the West’s eyes to the East in the thirteenth century. When their empire faded, the Turks and Arabs blocked the way. Thus Europe was shut out of Asian trade until the Portuguese in the fifteenth century found their way around Africa launching the age of discovery. The Portuguese efforts were methodical whereas Columbus’ voyage was a crapshoot. Grossly underestimating the distance to Asia, he was lucky America was there. Columbus never got past the prevailing religious, mythical and Ptolemaic preconceptions about the earth’s geography. After many voyages to the New World he never recognized it as such, still thinking he had found islands off the Asian coast. Amerigo Vespucci who explored most of the east coast of South America, did realize he had found a fourth continent and documented it. He not only saw through the errors of current maps but noted the vast numbers of new species. He reasoned that Noah could not have gotten them all on the ark becoming a heretic. After Amerigo Vespucci’s early death from malaria, a subsequent map independently published based on his notes named the continent after him. Just as with the discovery of new lands, the discovery of the macro and microscopic realms were inhibited by the doctrinaire Church, the widespread presumption of already knowing, and reliance on intuition. Thus when the telescope and the microscope came along to expose new dimensions their revelations were challenged. Most notably was Galileo’s inquisition and imprisonment for advocating heliocentrism. Galileo’s observations supported Copernicus’ model of the solar system. However, it took Kepler in the early seventeenth century to lay the foundation for modern astronomy with his laws that explained the planet’s orbits. Galen and Dioscorides developed new ideas about medicine in the first and second centuries but even into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries medical students simply took these ancient writings as bible rather than develop new ideas themselves. Paracelsus in the early sixteenth century would lead in new ways of thinking about medicine, embracing chemistry and exploring new mineral and botanical remedies. Later that century Santorio Santorio would use a new strategy, measurement. He crafted devices to measure pulse and temperature. He even weighed everything that went into and out of the body, initiating the study of metabolism. In the early seventeenth century William Harvey overturning Galen correctly identified the functioning of the circulatory system. Completing Harvey’s work was Malphigi who used the microscope to discover capillaries. By the seventeenth century medicine was no longer bound by the notions of the ancients. The seventeenth century was also the turning point in physics and mathematics. Newton, perhaps the greatest scientist of all time, was adulated for his discoveries rather than imprisoned like Galileo who died the year Newton was born. Scientists were fighting each other as often as the Church, the intense conflict between Leibniz and Newton being a case in point. To avoid state and church censorship and establish authorship, the Royal Society under Henry Oldenburg began accepting letters documenting discoveries and publishing them in journals. He initiated peer review and the organized sharing of scientific information. In the eighteenth century biology stepped forward with the classification of plants and animals by Carl Linnaeus who created taxonomy and John Ray who was the first to scientifically define the term species. Also that century the Comte de Buffon gave credibility to the idea that the earth was far older than 6,000 years. Meanwhile Edward Tyson founded comparative anatomy and showed that a man and chimpanzee had more in common than a chimpanzee and a monkey. Such discoveries paved the way for Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace to revolutionize man’s view of himself. Throughout the book Boorstin shows that the breakthroughs of eminent scientists like Darwin usually are the culmination of the contributions of many predecessors. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press not only spread knowledge but changed how language itself was used. From manuscripts numbering in the thousands before Gutenberg printed his bible, within 50 years there were ten million books in print. Prior to Guttenberg, scholarly texts were written in Latin. Universities across Europe conducted classes in Latin. The general populace spoke local dialects. There were no national languages in Germany, France, England, Italy or anywhere else. An Englishman from Kent could no more understand one from London than a Frenchman from Paris. Books printed in vernaculars became instrumental in establishing the dialect that would become each nation’s formal language which in turn would help form a national identity. The art of history was rediscovered in the Renaissance. For the first time since Herodotus the idea emerged that history should be built from independent facts not simply reported in terms of religious dogma. Then in the 18th century came the concept of prehistory, that there was human life before the 6,000 years presented in the Bible. This discovery enabled a new idea, the idea of human progress. In the sixteenth century Francis Bacon formulated empiricism and the idea of scientific progress. But it waited until the nineteenth century for the concept of cultural progress to be explored: Heinrich Schliemann and Johann Winckelmann established archeology; Christian Thomsen and Jens Jacob Worsaae created the concept of prehistoric time periods (stone, iron, etc.); Lewis Henry Morgan pioneered anthropology; Edward Tylor founded cultural anthropology taking on Christianity’s traditional characterization of indigenous peoples as degenerate; Adam Smith founded modern economics with the idea that wealth was more than just gold and silver; Karl Marx established the revolutionary idea of material progress. All of the above may seem like too much to cover in one volume, but it is well done and thoroughly enjoyable. We see the connections, each new idea leading to others often in different fields. We see how our modern conception of the world came to be. We see the vast scope of our knowledge base. We see how after being repressed for over a thousand years, there was a furious explosion of scientific discovery. We see how human society remained stuck in place through the illusion of knowledge and how recent is the image of the world we have today. If you find these topics appealing, this is the book. Highly recommended for those interested in a comprehensive history Western discovery and innovation.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jlawrence

    Good LORD it took me a long time to finish this book. Not because of the writing - Boorstin's good at relating history though clear, lively anecdotes. And it's long, but the delay was mostly because of the *size* - I have the 'deluxe illustrated edition' which is two hardback volumes filled with beautiful illustrations. I recommend this edition for the fantastic visual context it gives for the huge sweeps of history Boorstin surveys. I do not recommend this edition for its size & bulk, which is Good LORD it took me a long time to finish this book. Not because of the writing - Boorstin's good at relating history though clear, lively anecdotes. And it's long, but the delay was mostly because of the *size* - I have the 'deluxe illustrated edition' which is two hardback volumes filled with beautiful illustrations. I recommend this edition for the fantastic visual context it gives for the huge sweeps of history Boorstin surveys. I do not recommend this edition for its size & bulk, which is not anything you can comfortably read in bed or easily cart around with you. I finally finished because I broke down and lugged it on my commute (my main reading time). The book itself is an ambitious survey of advances that lead to greater and greater precision of describing the world in scientific terms, divided somewhat arbitrarily into four sections - "Time", "The Earth and Seas", "Nature" and "Society." Boorstin illustrates this progress through colorful biographical sketches of individuals who contributed to these advances, with some asides for analysis and historical what-if questions. There's much to criticize. It's certainly Eurocentric (but not absolutely - for instance, there's some very interesting stuff about the religious and cultural tolerance of Genghis Khan's Mongol empire, despite its 'barbarian' reputation). Boorstin's reliance on biographic sketches of 'men of genius' sometimes neglects the broader social context that lead to the discoveries, and sometimes neglects detailing previous advances a particular discoverer was drawing upon. It ends abruptly, with only a tiny gesture towards the huge & complex advances of the 20th century. I also suspect the more one knows of the history of science, and especially the more one knows about a particular field/individual discussed here, the more one might be annoyed with Boorstin's summaries. So as an overall history of 'discovery', it probably ranks as three stars. But since there was *much* I did not know that was here, I was happily bookmarking many pages, and thankful for the huge list of references and suggested further reading at the end.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (aka EM)

    Three-and-a-half stars for the book itself, which presents the history of human thought in chapters that detail the world's greatest discoveries, scientists and thinkers from astronomy to geography to psychology to religion and dozens of other points in between. I round my review up to four for the fact that my copy is dog-eared and falling apart because it was my late father's favourite book. He was an armchair traveller and pursuer of knowledge who was curtailed only by his life's circumstance Three-and-a-half stars for the book itself, which presents the history of human thought in chapters that detail the world's greatest discoveries, scientists and thinkers from astronomy to geography to psychology to religion and dozens of other points in between. I round my review up to four for the fact that my copy is dog-eared and falling apart because it was my late father's favourite book. He was an armchair traveller and pursuer of knowledge who was curtailed only by his life's circumstances from being an adventurer and discoverer himself. Dated now, and certainly not as high-falutin' as some other scientific treatises out there--but as erudite as it is accessible; expansive in scope but still a user-friendly introduction to what can often be intimidating subjects.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I had no idea this Boorstin guy was well known when I stole the beat up old book from my family's bookshelf for my own perusal. I was pleasantly surprised the entire time, amazed that what I thought was a run of the mill shelf filler would be so consistently interesting an engaging. It's a neat book, one worth reading - it's been a while now and I don't remember most of what is in there, but I can tell you that I'll never think of clocks the same way again. I had no idea this Boorstin guy was well known when I stole the beat up old book from my family's bookshelf for my own perusal. I was pleasantly surprised the entire time, amazed that what I thought was a run of the mill shelf filler would be so consistently interesting an engaging. It's a neat book, one worth reading - it's been a while now and I don't remember most of what is in there, but I can tell you that I'll never think of clocks the same way again.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ross

    One of my all-time favorite books. I bought it as an ‘airport’ book for a long flight in about 1985 and could not put it down. My old paper back , dog eared and extensively annotated finally fell apart earlier this year so I bought a second hand hard cover and went on annotating. I have read it three times from cover to cover and several more times in bits and pieces. Boorstin documents in wonderful conversational and personal prose the historical process of discovery of the heavens , earth and One of my all-time favorite books. I bought it as an ‘airport’ book for a long flight in about 1985 and could not put it down. My old paper back , dog eared and extensively annotated finally fell apart earlier this year so I bought a second hand hard cover and went on annotating. I have read it three times from cover to cover and several more times in bits and pieces. Boorstin documents in wonderful conversational and personal prose the historical process of discovery of the heavens , earth and man - of himself and his place in the cosmos . The focus is on this process in the west mostly through science and technology , with some passing reference to philosophy and religion. ( He addresses themes such as philosophy and art in the companion volumes The Seekers and The Creators. ) The author has been crtitcised for his concentration on the west . I feel this misses the point that it was Boorstin’s aim to tell the story from the western perspective and that is what he has done. Not that he ignores other major cultures with many references to Islam , India and China. It can also be argued that the book takes on too much and consequently has to leave out too much. However , this is not a conventional history but a sweeping view across more than 2000 years with many of the authors personal opinions and areas of interest providing the necessary stimulating examples to carry this multi layered narrative forward . This is not comprehensive history but a well balanced narrative. You might debate over what he has or has not included but the theme of discovery and progress rolls on. If it was possible I’d certainly give it more than 5 stars.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I feel divided on this book. I really enjoyed large chunks of it, and really appreciate the depth of knowledge and information found here. I also feel the overall tone and context in which it is presented is narrowly eurocentric and limiting. It looks at the history of the world through the lens of white european men and their accomplishments. It related almost everything to them. It sees colonialism as progress, slavery and subjugation, although evils, as ways toward new discoveries. Women are I feel divided on this book. I really enjoyed large chunks of it, and really appreciate the depth of knowledge and information found here. I also feel the overall tone and context in which it is presented is narrowly eurocentric and limiting. It looks at the history of the world through the lens of white european men and their accomplishments. It related almost everything to them. It sees colonialism as progress, slavery and subjugation, although evils, as ways toward new discoveries. Women are almost entirely absent from its pages. Florence Nightingale is mentioned briefly as someone who took up the science of statistics, but nothing is said of her. With a lens such as this, I found it hard to read at times. The content of the information was wonderful and he makes some very good observations, but others I found very problematic.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Neither deep nor systematic, this popular history of human discovery is still a fun, albeit anecdotal, read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    M.G. Bianco

    Classical Conversations, for whom I tutor, uses this text for its 12th grade (Challenge IV program). There are two things I really like about this book. 1. It tells the history of scientists and discoverers in the form of a story. It draws you into the story and develops the same spirit of inquiry the discoverers themselves would have experienced as they set out to discover. 2. It is biased. I am so weary of history books that pretend to be unbiased when they aren't. This books is unabashedly bias Classical Conversations, for whom I tutor, uses this text for its 12th grade (Challenge IV program). There are two things I really like about this book. 1. It tells the history of scientists and discoverers in the form of a story. It draws you into the story and develops the same spirit of inquiry the discoverers themselves would have experienced as they set out to discover. 2. It is biased. I am so weary of history books that pretend to be unbiased when they aren't. This books is unabashedly biased, but you know he is biased and you know what that bias is. You don't have some author trying to pretend he isn't biased, which really means he is trying to subtly teach you his bias. This bias is in your face. It isn't always a bias I agree with, but you know its there and you deal with it as it comes. Boorstin writes about world history in an interesting and engaging way. I love the fact that he loves humanity for its passion to discover, and attempts to pass that passion on to his readers. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and teaching from this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pablo

    I enjoyed hearing about human ingenuity over the ages. I particularly liked hearing about the mapping of the seas. Points on a map, incrementally added over time, arrived at by exceptional adventure/vision/luck/greed. Another interesting theme was the transformation of old ideas to new; the tenacity of tradition. The often mundane and sometimes brutality of dogma. How a person forges a new path with insight and research and encourages those two great tasks; yet, his followers deify the thinker, create I enjoyed hearing about human ingenuity over the ages. I particularly liked hearing about the mapping of the seas. Points on a map, incrementally added over time, arrived at by exceptional adventure/vision/luck/greed. Another interesting theme was the transformation of old ideas to new; the tenacity of tradition. The often mundane and sometimes brutality of dogma. How a person forges a new path with insight and research and encourages those two great tasks; yet, his followers deify the thinker, create a new fortress around those ideas and now we're stuck with it for 1 thousand years. And here comes a discoverer to start the process over again.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sean Mcmillin

    I'll write a more detailed review latter but this was amaze balls! I'll write a more detailed review latter but this was amaze balls!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erol Kaya

    What a great, elaborated, educating, and time-consuming book. I wish I had read it during my university years.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    This is history on a grand scale, covering vast distances of time and space, from the first attempts at a calendar to the dawn of quantum theory. The famous names are here, Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton, and the rest, but also many who are lesser known but nevertheless made important contributions to our understanding of the world and our place in it. The book is divided into four main sections: Time, Earth and the Seas, Nature, and Society, and within each are chapters focusing on a single person or This is history on a grand scale, covering vast distances of time and space, from the first attempts at a calendar to the dawn of quantum theory. The famous names are here, Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton, and the rest, but also many who are lesser known but nevertheless made important contributions to our understanding of the world and our place in it. The book is divided into four main sections: Time, Earth and the Seas, Nature, and Society, and within each are chapters focusing on a single person or the development of a single idea. The book amply illustrates the concept of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” When people lived by seasons it never occurred to them that knowing the hour might be useful. Once it became helpful to divide the days into equal hour increments clocks were invented, but the first ones showed only hours because there seemed to be no reason for anyone to know which minute it was. And then, once time could be told to the minute, accuracy started to be important, and the race was on to make additional improvements. This led eventually to the development of chronometer. On its first seagoing test in 1761 it was found to have lost only five seconds on an 81 day voyage, which meant navigators could find their position to within one mile anywhere on the vast oceans (Dava Sobel’s Longitude is a well written account of the chronometer’s development). Another important factor in the history of ideas is that sometimes the biggest hindrance to discovery is a pre-existing system that works satisfactorily for most purposes. It seems to be a constant in human nature that discoveries harden into dogma, so that Ptolemy’s astronomy, Aristotle’s science, and Galen’s physiology became unquestionable authorities. Finding alternatives could be hazardous to one’s health, as Galileo discovered when he was hauled before the Inquisition (Giorgio de Santillana’s The Crime of Galileo brilliantly explains the people, the society, and the controversies that led to his condemnation). It has become a truism that there are three stages in the life of a new idea: first people ridicule it; then they oppose it; then they say it was self-evident all along. The sheer number of topics covered in this book is amazing and shows how ideas are linked together in a great chain, and how random events in history have great and unexpected consequences. The Mongol conquests opened up an overland route to Asia, with the prospect of vast riches. After about a hundred years the empire fragmented and the route was closed, so there were strong incentives to find a sea passage to the East. Portugal exploited this opportunity, sending expeditions progressively farther south along the west coast of Africa until they discovered that there was a route to India, contrary to the ancient maps which held that the Indian Ocean was a sea enclosed on all sides by land. The opening of trade also meant the beginning of western exploitation of Asia. On Vasco da Gama’s first trip he was met cordially by the local ruler, who gave him a letter to Portugal’s king offering to open trade. On his second voyage he had a letter from his own king claiming all the Indies as Portuguese possessions. When the Indian ruler was slow to respond da Gama captured a number of local fishermen and sent their dismembered bodies to the king to help him make up his mind. Western civilization had arrived. Each of the dozens of topics covered in the book are placed into their scientific, historical, and cultural context: map making, optics, anatomy, calculus, the printing press, evolution and the concept of pre-history, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and on and on and on. If there are significant discoveries that the author missed, I can’t think of any. Being a discoverer is about courage and persistence as much as just having a great idea. This book brilliantly describes how far we have come and how fast we have moved. In these troubled times when it sometimes seems that the future looks irredeemably grim, this book is a hopeful reminder that sometimes we can find solutions to what seem impossible problems.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Curtis R

    Dude no joke I picked this bad boy up in a thrift store for like two bucks. I was drawn by the title and size alone. Thing is a beast. I picked it up and perused, its barely even used, I really had nothing to lose so I snagged it just like that. Its 745 heavy pages and looks and sounds cool. Its heavy and thick and full of facts, and I was going to be living abroad for at least a year. If you could only bring a few books, what would you choose? For fullness alone, but other reasons as well, this Dude no joke I picked this bad boy up in a thrift store for like two bucks. I was drawn by the title and size alone. Thing is a beast. I picked it up and perused, its barely even used, I really had nothing to lose so I snagged it just like that. Its 745 heavy pages and looks and sounds cool. Its heavy and thick and full of facts, and I was going to be living abroad for at least a year. If you could only bring a few books, what would you choose? For fullness alone, but other reasons as well, this one was an obvious candidate. This thing is straight history with sporadic dives into particular lives of individuals who had notable influence on that part of the narrative he takes us through. He goes through in a chronological sense, tracing those aspects of humanity in general which were discovered, pursued and applied throughout time. In a sense, he suggests that to exist as a human is to explore; that the destiny of mankind is found in discovery. He begins with the very topic of time and space itself, and man's conception and organization of it, which led to the development of other tools and ideas. He broadly groups everything in four categories: time, the earth and the seas, nature, and society. Within each topic, there are at least ten chapters dissecting and discussing the evolution of understanding and application. But its all cool, like dudes cutting up sheep to learn about anatomy, or why the northern Europeans explored where they did and why they stopped where they did. At least three stories made me gasp out loud. One of them is nuts. One of my favorite themes to think about in life is how the location of people affects them. This book did it in both a geographic and historical way. Although it is dense and descriptive, it is seldom dry, slow or boring. Of course, some subject matter will be less interesting to some (like I didn't care about some stuff for sure). This dude was senior professor at the University of Chicago, and then director and historian for the Smithsonian Museum, and then was the Librarian of Congress for almost a decade. This dude knows. This dude is in it. He loves it. He tells you all about it. For me, two main themes persisted throughout the book, and of course I could talk about a few other key ideas. The first which immediately comes to mind is that anyone can discover. Any seeker may succeed. Examples constantly abound of people from poor and humble means, informal education, or inconvenient circumstances who would leave a massive legacy or come upon an incredible invention or do something uniquely dynamic etc etc etc. TL;DR - fortune favors the bold, go ahead and get after it. Secondly, interestingly, is that precise success is not required to push human limits forward - our conceptions of science, the geography of the world, and practical experiments were often not accurate, yet continued the momentum of the human drive for exploration and understanding. You can probably think of an example of this one yourself ahem Christopher Columbus, but it is remarkable how and why certain things happen as they do, and success is not necessarily an ingredient for anything. Sidenote: the conclusion of Captain Cook's life was so frustrating in contrast with the accomplishments of his life. Of course, the downside is, its so doggone long that although I just finished it, I might as well start reading it again! But wait! Dang! Its part of a trilogy! And hold up! Its not even the longest book! Well, I guess a lot of things did happen in history...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joann

    I'm always interested and also usually a little perplexed by some of the comments given to a book such as this one. 'It was heavy.' 'Very dense and very long.' or 'I stuck with it and am glad I finally finished it.' Ok, that's the way some folks are, and that's fine, but in my view this just isn't the start-at-page-one-and-stick-with-it-to-page-716 kind of book. It's a book to keep handy on a shelf and dip into whenever and for whatever reason. It doesn't have a beginning, middle and end, just a I'm always interested and also usually a little perplexed by some of the comments given to a book such as this one. 'It was heavy.' 'Very dense and very long.' or 'I stuck with it and am glad I finally finished it.' Ok, that's the way some folks are, and that's fine, but in my view this just isn't the start-at-page-one-and-stick-with-it-to-page-716 kind of book. It's a book to keep handy on a shelf and dip into whenever and for whatever reason. It doesn't have a beginning, middle and end, just as the discoveries made don't, so there's no real reason the treat it as if did. In his brief opening Notes to the Reader, Boorstin states in his first sentence that his hero is The Discoverer. I took that as a hint, and that's how I've discovered this book, bits and pieces at a time, and in no order except the order of my interests. The book is organized into four 'Books'. Within each Book there are 'Parts' of varying numbers and within each Part there are further numbered and named sub-divisions that I suppose could be considered in some way equivalent to chapters. This form of organization provides some guidance. For example, within Book One: TIME, there is a Part III: The Missionary Clock and then three numbered sections; #7 Open Sesame to China; #8 Mother of Machines; and #9 Why it Happened in the West. The page numbers follow each named section. I have throughly enjoyed my start/stop manner of reading this book. I've learned a great deal and more importantly, at least to me, I learned what I did when I was interested in the topic.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Lutzenhiser

    The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin, published in 1985, is a solid, thoroughly researched and well documented series of 82 essays on the history of human discovery. Some of these discoveries are physical, such as the New World or the trade route around Africa. Some of the discoveries are scientific such as the Calculus, the atom, or Evolution. For me, the book has two aspects that set it well above similar works on scientific history. That is, an exploration of how we discovered things that one m The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin, published in 1985, is a solid, thoroughly researched and well documented series of 82 essays on the history of human discovery. Some of these discoveries are physical, such as the New World or the trade route around Africa. Some of the discoveries are scientific such as the Calculus, the atom, or Evolution. For me, the book has two aspects that set it well above similar works on scientific history. That is, an exploration of how we discovered things that one might not normally think of as a discovery, such as the measurement of Time, or how did the idea of divisions in pre-history into Stone, Bronze and Iton ages develop. How did we start to measure Time? This is a fascinating subject and one in which Boorstin indulges enough space to make a decent foray into the subject. The other novel aspect of the book is the occasional discussion of "why not them?". Why didn't the Chinese or Islam invent the movable printing press? They had better and more advanced technologies in printing and in paper production long before the west, but it took Gutenberg to invent it. "Why not them" is at least as interesting (if not more) a subject than why Gutenberg did invent it. Even though 25 years has passed since its publication, the work does not seem to show its age as Boorstin's positions his text in a manner to transcend our current period. Many of these essays will be just as interesting to readers 50 or 100 years from now.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    This is definitely a book to review while one is reading it. Boorstin has a sense of history as an unfolding story. The book is divided into many small sections, each having its own arc of significance with a beginning, middle and end. I read it almost every morning over breakfast. Never has a history text been so fascinating to me. July 30, 2010: Finished! After a few pages every morning for about a year. This was indeed an adventure in reading. The final discoverers discussed by Boorstin, Farad This is definitely a book to review while one is reading it. Boorstin has a sense of history as an unfolding story. The book is divided into many small sections, each having its own arc of significance with a beginning, middle and end. I read it almost every morning over breakfast. Never has a history text been so fascinating to me. July 30, 2010: Finished! After a few pages every morning for about a year. This was indeed an adventure in reading. The final discoverers discussed by Boorstin, Faraday, Maxwell and Einstein (among many others), discovered evidence that the universe is a unified field rather than a void containing the interaction of discrete units. In retrospect, it seems the whole chronicle of the discoverers in all areas has been leading up to that discovery, and the possibility of future revelations presaged by this is tremendously exciting. Boorstin's history brims with this excitement on every page. One of the best features of The Discoverers is a wonderful bibliography wherein Boorstin not only lists, but discusses his voluminous source material. Thus, I can rest easy with the realization that much of what I've read is forgotten. I know where to look it up.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Moore

    An adventure story of our gradual awakening to the world through clocks, telescopes, microscopes, maps, and the printing press. There is immense scholarship that mines the lives of thinkers, scholars, rulers, poets, inventors, scientists, and artists. Boorstin's book is a tour de force, pulling together sources from multiple sources and cultures to give us a mirror of our intellectual, scientific evolution. The conflict between traditional sources of authority and liberating technologies provides An adventure story of our gradual awakening to the world through clocks, telescopes, microscopes, maps, and the printing press. There is immense scholarship that mines the lives of thinkers, scholars, rulers, poets, inventors, scientists, and artists. Boorstin's book is a tour de force, pulling together sources from multiple sources and cultures to give us a mirror of our intellectual, scientific evolution. The conflict between traditional sources of authority and liberating technologies provides an excellent context in which to understand the current political upheavals as the Internet, AI, and robotics reshape our language, culture, and expectations. Highly recommended.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Max Nova

    One of the most ambitious books I have ever read. Boorstin sets off to cover the interplay between society and technological development from the most primitive timekeeping devices up to the wave-particle theory. And he succeeds admirably. This book is required reading for anyone trying to understand how the world works. Some of the best quotes from the book: "The most promising words ever written on the maps of human knowledge are terra incognita—unknown territory" "THE great obstacle to discoveri One of the most ambitious books I have ever read. Boorstin sets off to cover the interplay between society and technological development from the most primitive timekeeping devices up to the wave-particle theory. And he succeeds admirably. This book is required reading for anyone trying to understand how the world works. Some of the best quotes from the book: "The most promising words ever written on the maps of human knowledge are terra incognita—unknown territory" "THE great obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge" "Slow to change, the sacred written sources acquired credibility by repetition. Sea charts, however, were tested not by literature but by experience. No amount of theology would persuade a mariner that the rocks his ship foundered on were not real." "For the sea had no memory. While the topography of the land remained servile to the written word, to rumor, myth, and tradition, the seascape remained a realm of freedom, freedom to learn from experience, to be guided by fact, and to increase knowledge." "The world’s curiosities had become mere symptoms of China’s virtue. So was revealed a Chinese Wall of the Mind against the lessons of the rest of the planet." "Columbus might have set out from Cádiz, the main Spanish seaport on the Atlantic, but Cádiz was crowded on his appointed day, for it had been designated as the principal point of embarkation for departing Jews. His day of departure, August 2, 1492, had also been fixed by their Most Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, as the deadline for the expulsion of all Jews from Spain." “TRUTHS,” Descartes observed, “are more likely to have been discovered by one man than by a nation.” "Europe’s ancient institutions of learning, colleges and universities, had been founded not to discover the new but to transmit a heritage. By contrast, the Royal Society and other parliaments of scientists, with their academies in London, Paris, Florence, Rome, Berlin, and elsewhere, aimed to increase knowledge." "The “liberal arts”—the prescribed foundation of a “liberal education,” i.e., the subjects best suited for liberi, freemen—might have been called the “literary arts.” For the trivium, the whole curriculum for the Bachelor of Arts degree in the Middle Ages consisted of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, read in the Latin works of ancient Rome. Only for the advanced degree, the Master of Arts, was the student examined in the broader quadrivium, which comprised arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music." "When Alcuin joined Charlemagne at Aachen, they naturally made the reform and standardizing of calligraphy a major concern. To ensure the accuracy of holy texts it was essential to bring the learned world together. In this lucky collaboration, Alcuin had the knowledge and the taste to devise standards, Charlemagne had the administrative power, the organization, and the will to enforce them. At his school of calligraphy in the monastery of St. Martin’s in Tours, Alcuin taught his reformed script. He had studied ancient monuments and recent manuscripts in search of the most elegant, most legible, and most writable forms. His capital letters followed the dignified inscriptions of Augustan Rome. Then, drawing on the experiments of other monks and on his long experience at York in supervising the transcription of the famous Golden Gospels, he produced a standard form for small letters. Alcuin’s Carolingian Minuscule proved successful beyond his dreams. Neat and attractive, easy to write and to read, it dominated scriptoria and libraries. Seven hundred years later, when movable type came to Europe, and after only a brief Gothic interlude, the letters were fashioned on the model of Carolingian Minuscule. Long after other monuments of Charlemagne’s empire have crumbled, the pages of this book in your hands remain a vivid reminder of the power of the well-designed written word. What we call the Roman alphabet is really Alcuin’s alphabet." "In Europe, though there are records of leather money in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, no record of paper money appears until an issue in Sweden in 1648." "Three centuries later, during the Mongol dynasty, the Chinese tried casting the separate characters not in ceramics but in tin. Still printers found it “both more exact and more convenient” to carve characters on a large block of wood which was “then cut in squares with a small fine saw till each character forms a separate piece.” But the Chinese language had no alphabet, which meant that more than thirty thousand type characters were needed. How could these be stored for easy retrieval? One expedient was to classify the characters into the five tones of the Chinese language, then subdivide them into rhyme sections according to the official Book of Rhymes. With this in mind, printers equipped themselves with revolving tables, each about seven feet in diameter, topped by a round bamboo frame divided into compartments. Even with such aids, the selection of the type for a text would be laborious and the replacement of the pieces for reuse would be tedious." "To the Kentish housewife in Caxton’s day the English spoken by a London merchant sounded for all the world like French. A century later, in Shakespeare’s day, that could not have happened. Caxton’s work was largely responsible for the change." "The refusal of Muslim leaders to adopt the printing press also helps explain many of the features of the modern Arabic-speaking world... Not until the Westernizing reform movements (1839–76) of the mid-nineteenth century that aimed to secularize education did printed books again become a force in the life of Turkey. Finally in 1874 the Turkish government gave permission to print the Koran, but only in Arabic." “Poetry cannot be translated,” observed Dr. Johnson, “and therefore it is the poets that preserve the language.” "But President Andrew Jackson was reputed to have said that he had no respect for a man who knew only one way to spell a word" "One of the greatest Greek inventions was the idea of history. The word “history,” along with its cognates in European languages, derives through the Latin historia from the word historiê, which the Greeks used to mean “inquiry,” or “knowing by inquiry.” Its original meaning survives in the expression “natural history” for inquiry into nature. And this characteristic Greek notion of “inquiry” bore fruit in the sixth century B.C., in the Ionian Enlightenment. " "The Greek gods, timeless on Olympus, had not exhorted people to remember their past. But Judaism was oriented to the past, a historical religion in a sense quite alien to the Hindu, the Buddhist, or the Confucian. “Blessed is the nation,” sang the Psalmist, “whose God is the Lord, and the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance.” God’s purpose for the Jews was disclosed in the past recorded in Sacred Scripture. By recalling the favors and the tribulations that God had visited on them, Jews discovered and remembered their mission as a chosen people. For Jews, remembering the past was the way to remember their God. Scripture told the story of the world from Creation, and Jewish holidays were celebrations or re-enactments of the past." The promise of Jesus Christ, the Christian way out of the cycles, was not an escape into some Universal. Rather it was the extension of the uniqueness of the person forever and ever. The Gospels repeatedly promised “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Christian ideal was not to escape rebirth but to be reborn and so live on forever in a heavenly afterlife. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” "The “finality of Jesus,” elaborated by Augustine into a theory of history, would govern Christian thought in Europe for the next thousand years." "Only in 1949 did the Chinese government go New Style with the Gregorian calendar. A common time-denominator for the world’s events would make it easier to define the latitudes of history, and so discover which events were happening in different places at the same time, and then, too, which of the world’s events came before or after others. During most of human history, even in Western Christendom, as we have seen, there was no uniform scheme—in fact, no scheme at all—for dating events in one place in relation to events in another place." "For the base event in his chronology, Newton, oddly enough, chose the fabled voyage of the Argonauts. This great scientist erected the whole grand structure of his world chronology on the flimsiest possible foundation—the date of the mythical adventure led by Jason to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece. The Argo, Jason’s ship, was said to contain a beam cut from the divine tree of Dodona which could foretell the future." "Morgan’s efforts to collect data led him to employ a device that was wonderfully adapted to the new world of incremental science. This was the questionnaire. A circular letter or schedule of questions had been tried before by tax collectors and census gatherers. But Morgan’s appears to be the first large-scale worldwide effort to gather factual minutiae for scientific purposes. “Questionnaire” does not appear in print in English until 1901.... Morgan’s own vivid experience of progress had nourished his optimism and made him a prophet and a founder of a science of progress... According to Engels, Morgan had actually anticipated Marx’s materialist interpretation, and Morgan’s Ancient Society was as “necessary” as Marx’s Capital for understanding the history of civilization"

  22. 5 out of 5

    Davis Smith

    Easily one of the finest history books I’ve read. Boorstin’s concept of a sweeping epic of discovery seems highly ambitious, but the cohesion and universality in his exposition is a truly laudable achievement. I can see him being criticized for incompleteness and Western bias, but his focus on the major people and events of the intellectual, scientific, and cultural landscape keeps his work together and the flow uninterrupted, alternating chapters consisting of mini biographical sketches and ela Easily one of the finest history books I’ve read. Boorstin’s concept of a sweeping epic of discovery seems highly ambitious, but the cohesion and universality in his exposition is a truly laudable achievement. I can see him being criticized for incompleteness and Western bias, but his focus on the major people and events of the intellectual, scientific, and cultural landscape keeps his work together and the flow uninterrupted, alternating chapters consisting of mini biographical sketches and elaboration of deeper ideas. His opinions do tend to dilute the book at times. Boorstin has an interesting and eclectic approach to historiography that is a cross somewhere between pragmatism, progressivism, skepticism, and libertarianism (the first term is probably most accurate), and some parts are decidedly either factually incorrect or misrepresented; especially the tired “Dark Ages” myth that a historian of his caliber should know better than to propagate. However, his prose is crisp, breezy, and inviting. Especially fascinating to me were the portions on time, expansion to the East, medicine, and the whole fourth part on society. It’s the rare long read that is simultaneously interesting and meaningful, and I’m looking forward to checking out some of Boorstin’s other work this summer.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    I listened to the audiobook of this one, which means that I need to go back and dive in deeper, but on the surface, the book was aesthetically beautiful and the conclusions pushed me to think a lot about progress, achievement, multiculturalism and the pursuit of knowledge. I particularly loved the descriptions of Portugal during the Age of Discovery, the short history of medicine and the long meditations on the role of Christianity and Western Culture on scientific discovery. It's also interesti I listened to the audiobook of this one, which means that I need to go back and dive in deeper, but on the surface, the book was aesthetically beautiful and the conclusions pushed me to think a lot about progress, achievement, multiculturalism and the pursuit of knowledge. I particularly loved the descriptions of Portugal during the Age of Discovery, the short history of medicine and the long meditations on the role of Christianity and Western Culture on scientific discovery. It's also interesting to just think about the slow winding pace of knowledge, and the balance between inventing new tools, using those tools to discover new facts about the world, and then taking those facts and building society around them. While it's certainly a book that expounds a great-man's theory of history, it's style of writing reminded me of Keegan's History of Warfare, and I was struck by the sheer joy of following along with Boorstein's path through modern history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: What we know about the world we created Boorstin was the Librarian of Congress when he wrote the pair of books that were huge bestsellers, sat on many family bookshelves, and were eventually sold or given away so are widely available on the used book market. The Discoverers was followed by The Creators which documented the history of what we created (religion, art, drama, literature) about the world we know. I found The Creators more satisfying because surprisingly it is easier to d Review title: What we know about the world we created Boorstin was the Librarian of Congress when he wrote the pair of books that were huge bestsellers, sat on many family bookshelves, and were eventually sold or given away so are widely available on the used book market. The Discoverers was followed by The Creators which documented the history of what we created (religion, art, drama, literature) about the world we know. I found The Creators more satisfying because surprisingly it is easier to define what we have created in the world than what we know about the world we have discovered. Do things exist just as we discover them, or do our discoveries in fact shape and in some ways change or even create the things we describe as having been "discovered"? This is the problem of The Discoverers. For example, Boorstin includes the theory of evolution as a discovery, as if it were a thing lying below the surface of the world waiting to be dug up and claimed as a discovery. But in fact this theory (like others Boorstin includes here such as the heliocentric solar system and theories about the elements) was pieced together in the minds of its proponents. Do our discoveries describe how we see the world (hopefully in ways that are increasingly accurate and therefore useful), or how the world actually is, and can science and language every really describe exactly how the world is? This may seem like an unnecessarily philosophical question until you read about the latest bizarre findings in quantum physics! The most interesting and insightful discoveries documented by Boorstin are measurements of time and distance. I was taken aback immediately by the simple realization that, as fundamental as they are to everyday life, time and distance are not immutable things. Measurements of time were driven first by the daily cycle of light and dark, then the seasonal variations of temperature and precipitation driving crop cycles, and then the monthly lunar cycles which marked off signs in the sky (astronomy and astrology) and events on earth (work weeks, religious ceremonies, and cyclical medical treatments). It was only many millenia later that technology allowed and then culture and economies required time to be precisely measured in more granular units like hours, minutes, and seconds. Distance was determined by the length of a stride or the distance from the elbow to the tips of the fingers, measuring sticks that were universally available if not consistently calibrated. Expanding horizons at sea led to discoveries of geography and geology that were shocking and required description and then measurement. Maps, one of mankind's most fascinating art forms and artifacts, gradually progressed from mythical fictions to rude guesses to harbor charts accurate enough to allow sailors coasting around the edges of the known land surfaces to find safe landing. Before sea-going journeys could venture behind sight of land, we needed to discover ways to measure latitude and longitude by signs in the sky and calculations in the mind that finally directly linked the measures of time and distance. As in The Creators, Boorstin divides his long journey into books (time is Book One and geography of land and sea Book Two of four), 15 parts, and 82 chapters over nearly 700 pages of text plus another 30 pages of references for further reading. After the strong start in the first two books, I found myself bogged down in the Books on discoveries of nature and society. Despite the breadth of his coverage, the topics are so vast that they seem less well organized and at the same time hampered by the severe selectivity required to keep the hardback to a carriable size. While many will read straight through as I did, The Discoverers is also usable and perhaps best suited as a reference book, especially with the bibliography providing links to in depth followup reading. I found myself flipping back to the references and then googling for more and later information as I read, making the text a walking guide around your nearest library, bookstore, or the internet. But as I started, I come back to the philosophical discussion about creation versus discovery. Creation is paradoxically easier to define and organize than discovery, perhaps because it need not map to or describe the real world, but creates it's own world's and boundaries. We readers can discover the world of Narnia or Middle Earth or Batman because it only exists in a creation. When Europeans first encountered America, can we really say that they discovered this pre-existing part of the world? The descriptions of the explorers, the settlers, the adventurers and the exploiters who came and brought back words and artifacts from the "New World" hardly constitute the truth about that world with its own people, cultures, history, plants, animals, and geography. To answer my earlier question, these things emphatically did not exist just as we "discovered" them; our discoveries shaped, changed and even destroyed the things we describe as having been "discovered". If you pick up The Discoverers use it to learn, to reference what Boorstin has summarized, and to challenge yourself to continue to think about the world that "man's search to know" has discovered--and created.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Arnold

    The Discoverers is a genial, readable, welcome overview of some of the major scientific discoveries in human history, linked together by theme, and a good candidate for "best book that should have been one of my textbooks in high school but inexplicably wasn't". Boorstin is apparently a generally strong historian, having written several other acclaimed works like the 1974 History Pulitzer winner The Americans, and if that one was anything like this it should be a great read. The Discoverers take The Discoverers is a genial, readable, welcome overview of some of the major scientific discoveries in human history, linked together by theme, and a good candidate for "best book that should have been one of my textbooks in high school but inexplicably wasn't". Boorstin is apparently a generally strong historian, having written several other acclaimed works like the 1974 History Pulitzer winner The Americans, and if that one was anything like this it should be a great read. The Discoverers takes a strongly narrative approach to its scope of inquiry, which endeared it to me. It's divided into four main sections: Time, which discusses the inventions of the calendar and clock; The Earth and Seas, which recounts the refinement of mapping, geography, and exploration; Nature, which covers astronomy, medicine, and physics; and Society, which wraps up the modern era as an age where people have studied themselves and their works in unprecedented detail. These general topics are related to the reader through the stories of the explorers and scientists who uncovered new lands and new knowledge, and Boorstin's smooth writing style and talent for both panoramic surveys and detailed explanations should make the content stick in the mind a bit better than the somewhat disjointed style of most textbooks. I like the way that he treats the "story of progress" as the stories of people, both because he's a great humanist, sensitive to the struggles of people to shrug off constraints of ignorance and see a little farther, and also because that way he's better able to impart just how difficult those struggles were. The overall lesson is that progress is very difficult: people's prejudices - be they the spontaneous generation, geocentrism, the threefold world map - are almost always seemingly reasonable and justifiable by simple inspection, and it takes a lot of deep thinking and hard work to advance the frontiers of knowledge. Boorstin is able to incite both sympathy for the inhabitants of the old worlds and admiration for the pioneers of the new worlds, while returning again and again to a sentiment we would all do well to remember: "I have observed that the world has suffered far less from ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, a heretic, or an unbeliever." Well said. Here's hoping that more people read this book, both to celebrate the great scientists and adventurers of the past, and keep in mind that spirit of discovery.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marfita

    Well, phew. This only took me 6 weeks. Mostly because, as much as I was enjoying it, the material is pretty dense and requires thought, digestion - who'm I kidding? I'm lazy. Shogun was 1200 pages and I read it in six days. But I really did enjoy it. The section on Time was really eye-opening. You have to invent Time to invent a watch. It's a process. And to need a watch, you need a reason for Time to be cut up in those pieces. This is of particular interest to me for dealing with the watchmaker Well, phew. This only took me 6 weeks. Mostly because, as much as I was enjoying it, the material is pretty dense and requires thought, digestion - who'm I kidding? I'm lazy. Shogun was 1200 pages and I read it in six days. But I really did enjoy it. The section on Time was really eye-opening. You have to invent Time to invent a watch. It's a process. And to need a watch, you need a reason for Time to be cut up in those pieces. This is of particular interest to me for dealing with the watchmaker analogy/thingie. If there is a watch, there must be a watchmaker. No. The workings of a watch are based on previous technology - metallurgy, mechanisms, and, so it turns out, even the need for a flippin' watch! What this book does is show that everything evolves. All knowledge is built on the sugar cube blocks of what is known before. And sometimes someone comes along with a brick, and you have to redo from start and use bricks. There's no real point to going back to sugar cubes after you've used bricks, but the cubes are still interesting. Of course, something better than bricks may come along as well. From Time, the book moves on to Geography, and more than just if the world is flat, round, or riding on the backs of four elephants on the back of a giant tortoise. Then there is Nature - if you want to discuss a particular plant or animal, how do you know you are discussing the same ones someone half the globe away is? Again, a need arises and it eventually leads to heresy. Oh dear. The last section is on Society: writing/printing, history, and the grab-bag of evaluating the present. I got bogged down in the last bit. I had already read a history of newspapers and an expansion on that was fine. I have read Herodotus and Thucydides in my halcyon youth (haha!) when I should have been more involved with sexual experimentation probably. The parts on economics should have interested me more, but by this time I was tired of the book and looking forward to the "Some Reference Notes" which turned out to be a chatty and enthusiastic bibliography. Great, just what I need: more reading that will make me sexually unattractive ... again.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Holly Lindquist

    This is an engaging and beautifully well-written history of science. Basically, imagine some of the most fascinating essays and magazine articles on science you've ever read, stick 'em in a 700 page book, and you have The Discoverers. For those who actually want details on just how much this book covers, here is the shortest summary I could come up with: - Humankind's first attempts at astronomy and time-keeping. (The history of clocks was probably my favorite part of the entire book, though the c This is an engaging and beautifully well-written history of science. Basically, imagine some of the most fascinating essays and magazine articles on science you've ever read, stick 'em in a 700 page book, and you have The Discoverers. For those who actually want details on just how much this book covers, here is the shortest summary I could come up with: - Humankind's first attempts at astronomy and time-keeping. (The history of clocks was probably my favorite part of the entire book, though the competition was quite fierce.) - Geography, exploration, navigation, and the inventions of maps and atlases. - The controversial sciences of Copernicus and Galileo, and the unpleasant reaction of the religious authorities. - The first explorations into the world of microbes and the rather ghoulish beginnings of anatomy & medicine (another of my favorite parts). - Isaac Newton and the formation of the long-titled Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. (There are some anecdotes in this part that give one the impression that Newton was not a particularly nice guy.) - The history of zoology, botany, taxonomy, and the theory of evolution. - Musings on human memory from Homer to Freud, the history of libraries (we can thank the monks for that), printing & book-making, and those illustrious and odd writers of the first generation of dictionaries. - A history of history (because people used to just make that stuff up before Herodotus came along & he still made a lot of stuff up), archaeology, museums & preservation, anthropology, economics, & statistics. - Finally, the end of this incredibly wide-ranging work summarizes progress in atomic theory (up to 1911, that is). Anyway, I left out quite a bit, but you get the idea. And how many gob-smacking fun-facts and anecdotes are available to wow your nerdy friends and compatriots? A plethora, folks. This book is fantastic. Go stuff your brain.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Lawson

    This book was a MASSIVE undertaking by Boorstin and apparently is part of a trilogy. On the whole, I really enjoyed it. As others have noted, it is a good historical overview starting from the discovery of the ~365 day solar year by the Egyptians and up to the atom. I was drawn to it because I love biographies and this was sort of a compilation. My favorite discoverer was probably Keynes. I may be be experiencing a bit of a recency bias since he was at the end of the book but he was such a well- This book was a MASSIVE undertaking by Boorstin and apparently is part of a trilogy. On the whole, I really enjoyed it. As others have noted, it is a good historical overview starting from the discovery of the ~365 day solar year by the Egyptians and up to the atom. I was drawn to it because I love biographies and this was sort of a compilation. My favorite discoverer was probably Keynes. I may be be experiencing a bit of a recency bias since he was at the end of the book but he was such a well-intentioned visionary and I enjoyed reading his letters. A few critiques - Sometimes Boorstin would get out of discovery territory and that would bother me. For example, he covers the "two great systemizers," Ray and Linnaeus, who came up with the organization system for species and genuses. While they are interesting people and certainly did much to advance biology, calling them discoverers is a bit of a stretch. Same with Gutenberg (printing press), Webster (dictionary), Edward Burnett Tylor (cultural anthropology), and several others. While Boorstin made many valiant attempts to form connections in the reader's mind - "Like Balboa speculating on the extent of his great Southern Ocean, or Galileo delighting in the new infinity of the stars, so Leeuwenhoek luxuriated in the minuteness of [cells] and their infinitely vast populations." - this book is generally not well designed to stick. It would benefit greatly from some timelines/visuals, or at the very least, an index. Food for thought - A major theme in the book is how fear of things that are difficult to understand, religion, and the confidence in one's existing "knowledge" serve as barriers to true knowledge. History contains so much resistance to scientific advancement; it's crazy. And it always seems so stupid in hindsight. We must learn from history and not let fear and false confidence block progress and understanding.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Oktavianus

    This book is, by far, the longest and most in-depth history book that I've read this year. At around 700+ pages long, It took me nearly a month to finish reading it (and I may have skipped some chapters. Shame on me). The number of pages may seem daunting, but the structure of the book is actually divided into 4 primary topics which contain many sub-topics. If you're a super slow reader who loves history, this book might be for you. At its core, The Discoverers explains nearly everything about th This book is, by far, the longest and most in-depth history book that I've read this year. At around 700+ pages long, It took me nearly a month to finish reading it (and I may have skipped some chapters. Shame on me). The number of pages may seem daunting, but the structure of the book is actually divided into 4 primary topics which contain many sub-topics. If you're a super slow reader who loves history, this book might be for you. At its core, The Discoverers explains nearly everything about the multifaceted aspects of human history, from geography to politics to sea navigation to science to philosophy, and many more. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet version of a history book. However, I don't think this is a good introduction for someone who hasn't understood certain historical events. If you're looking for a great introduction to world history, A Litle History of The World is a superb choice. One of the interesting things about the book, in my opinion, is the analytical writing. Boorstin successfully manages to explain the big "why" of certain events that happened in history, why we invented religion, why we discovered America, and why we discovered science, etc. On the other hand, I think this book isn't for me. Certain chapters bore me to hell while others are just dull. And I think the bulk of the story if mostly western-centric. I skipped a lot of chapters (which I'm not proud of). Reading this requires tons of commitments and if you don't have any, you can skip this one. It's not for the impatient like me. Maybe this book is more suitable for historians or hardcore history nerds.

  30. 4 out of 5

    JJVid

    I feel conflicted from having read a book in which quality deserves five stars, but enjoyment deserves 3. I understand its merit; the book is very well written and even better researched. But I grew bored of the relentless onslaught of new facts, new characters, and new situations with only a historical thread tying them all together (Boorstin opts for "a" instead of "an" when prefacing "historical" which I found odd but preserve here). Boorstin demands a rudimentary historical knowledge which, I feel conflicted from having read a book in which quality deserves five stars, but enjoyment deserves 3. I understand its merit; the book is very well written and even better researched. But I grew bored of the relentless onslaught of new facts, new characters, and new situations with only a historical thread tying them all together (Boorstin opts for "a" instead of "an" when prefacing "historical" which I found odd but preserve here). Boorstin demands a rudimentary historical knowledge which, frankly, I do not possess; he throws out names like Magellan or Marco Polo just the same as Columbus and Darwin as if all four were equally well known. Had I had adequate historical background knowledge I'm sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed this book, and in fact my heart raced when reading about Darwin and Wallace, but, alas, I am historically naive and a book this dense and relentlessly referential toward an astounding array of important-guys-past just goes over my head entirely sometimes. It may be unfair, but I grant this 3 stars fully knowing that I would grant it 5 if I were historically literate. I only "liked" it, nothing more.

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