The Man Who Loved China

The Man Who Loved China

The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

Book - 2008
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The "New York Times"-bestselling author of "The Professor and the Madman" and "Krakatoa" returns with the remarkable story of the growth of a great nation, and the eccentric and adventurous scientist who defined its essence for the world.
The extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China--long the world's most technologically advanced country. This married Englishman, a freethinking intellectual, while working at Cambridge University in 1937, fell in love with a visiting Chinese student, with whom he began a lifelong affair. He became fascinated with China, and embarked on a series of extraordinary expeditions to the farthest frontiers of this ancient empire. He searched everywhere for evidence to bolster his conviction that the Chinese were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar innovations--including printing, the compass, explosives, suspension bridges, even toilet paper--often centuries before the rest of the world. His dangerous journeys took him across war-torn China to far-flung outposts, consolidating his deep admiration for the Chinese people. After the war, Needham began writing what became a seventeen-volume encyclopedia, Science and Civilisation in China.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York : Harper, c2008.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780060884598
0060884592
9780060884611
0060884614
Branch Call Number: 509 NEEDHAM
Characteristics: xii, 316 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm

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IndyPL_SteveB Jun 30, 2019

Joseph Needham was one of the most brilliant scholars of the 20th Century and the man who showed the West how the Chinese had invented hundreds of technological developments long before they were invented or borrowed in Europe. These include printed books, the compass, gunpowder, the abacus, cast iron, wrought iron, breast strap harnesses for horses and oxen, the stirrup, the wheelbarrow, the fishing reel, the segmental arch bridge, perfumed toilet paper, umbrella, kites, and dozens more. While this is common knowledge among many today, almost none of this history was known to anyone outside of China before Needham’s work.

Winchester tells us of Needham’s 4 years in China during World War II, where he traveled all over the country, getting supplies to embattled Chinese scientists and learning about the 3,000 year history of Chinese science and technology. He just missed getting captured by the Japanese on one wild adventure. At the same time, he discovered that many scientists’ libraries had been sold to booksellers so the scientists’ families could survive, and he began buying hundreds of the books to ship home to England.

As he eventually began to read all of the texts back at Cambridge, he realized what an amazing history was there, completely unknown in the West. This resulted in what some historians call “perhaps the greatest work of scholarship achieved by one individual since Aristotle” -- the now 20+ volumes of *Science and Civilisation in China.”

There is a lot more to Needham’s life and Winchester doesn’t skimp on the details. Winchester is a terrific writer and this is a fascinating book.

z
zipread
Jan 23, 2017

Simon Winchester is an accomplished author not afraid to tackle the most esoteric of topics and personages. He has well over thirty book to his credit. Prolific indeed, dealing with subjects as varied as the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary; the Birth of Geology; the Atlantic Ocean; and, of course, the Orient. Obviously, Winchester is not one to shirk the large subjects.
He writes intelligently yet engagingly about the subjects to which be brings the fruits of insight, knowledge and enthusiasm.
This book, a biography of sorts, is about a scholar not much known to the general public, Joseph Needham.
Needham was an academic who took his training in Biochemistry at Cambridge. The pivitol point in his life came in 1935 when he met a young graduate student by the name of Lu Gwei-djen. It was as a result of this meeting (which unfolded into a life-long relationship) that Needsham's fascination with the orient was kindled.
During the Second World War Needham worked and travelled extensively in China, always attempting to find the answer to what has since become known as "Needham's Question": why had China and India been overtaken by the West in science and technology, despite their earlier successes? Ultimately, it might be argued, Needham never did find the answer to his question.
His seminal contribution to sinology was the completion of a seven volume work treating in China's contribution such as Mathematics, Mining, Civil Engineering and numerous other scientific and technological areas of study.
A highly invigorating book and one not to be avoided merely because if its somewhat quirky title.

s
SPSit
Nov 25, 2016

Mr. Simon Winchester is a good writer. I do appreciate his discussion as to why the Chinese had stopped innovating after the sixteenth century A.D. My view is that under an imperial system where the emperor's decisions and orders were unquestioned and strictly enforced would have contributed to it in addition to all the possible causes suggested by Mr. Winchester.

c
ClaireM_W
Apr 23, 2016

I couldn't get past the hero's tedious personal history. So I quit reading.

r
Ron@Ottawa
Dec 09, 2014

Well written and a lot of details, this book will appeal to readers that fall in the 'special interest' category. I can see some academics would find it engaging. However, if you do not share an interest in the subject matter, you will find it totally lacking in entertainment value.

WVMLBookClubTitles Jun 22, 2013

In this fascinating biography, Winchester brings to life Joseph Needham, the brilliant and eccentric Cambridge scientist who brought to light China’s historic achievements and innovations during a time when the West regarded China as hopelessly backward. Winchester touches lightly on these innovations, but prefers to concentrate on the colourful life of Needham who, along with being a nudist and communist, had a lifelong affair with the Chinese graduate student who sparked his love for China in the first place.

neko Dec 23, 2009

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