Automotive Holiday Deals Books Holiday Gift Guide Shop Men's Athletic Shoes Learn more nav_sap_SWP_6M_fly_beacon Adele egg_2015 All-New Amazon Fire TV Grooming Deals Gifts Under $50 Amazon Gift Card Offer bf15 bf15 bf15 $30 Off Amazon Echo Starting at $49.99 Kindle Black Friday Deals Shop Now DOTD
Descartes and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Android

To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.

Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

Descartes: The Life and times of a Genius Hardcover – October 31, 2006

15 customer reviews

See all 7 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
New from Used from
"Please retry"
Hardcover, October 31, 2006
$42.08 $0.70

Alfred Wegener: Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift by Mott T. Greene
"Alfred Wegener" by Mott T. Greene
Alfred Wegener aimed to create a revolution in science which would rank with those of Nicolaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin. Learn more | See related books

Special Offers and Product Promotions

  • Take an Extra 30% Off Any Book: Use promo code HOLIDAY30 at checkout to get an extra 30% off any book for a limited time. Excludes Kindle eBooks and Audible Audiobooks. Restrictions apply. Learn more

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A devout Catholic who lived in a time of "miracles, spontaneous generation, and phoenixes rising from the ashes," not to mention the Spanish Inquisition, Descartes (1596–1650) spent most of his life trying to justify to the church a rational approach to studying the natural world. Though he did not succeed during his lifetime, Descartes laid the foundation for future tolerance of scientific and mathematical discoveries. The deceptive simplicity of his writings on age-old problems such as "I think therefore I am," mind-body dualism and his "method of doubt" contribute to his reputation as a genius; however, despite the book's subtitle, proving genius is not Grayling's main concern. Rather, this book of history illuminates the problems of an intellectual during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. In the first half of the book, Grayling proposes that the young Descartes was actually a spy for the Jesuits while living in Paris. Once Descartes leaves Paris for the Netherlands, a more crucial intellectual adventure begins in the conflict between his allegiance to the church and his "Copernican, materialist and mechanistic" scientific method. Unfortunately, this tension doesn't come across with the same vividness as in earlier chapters. 26 color and 11 b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Grayling's profile of Rene Descartes (1596-1650) is a general-interest biography that follows the life stages and travels of the flesh-and-blood Descartes (those wanting a more scholarly approach should seek out Stephen Gaukroger's Descartes, 1995). Between his birth in rural France and his death at the Swedish royal court are curious gaps of biographical knowledge that invite plausible hypothesizing. Descartes' relation to the Rosicrucians, a supposed secret society, is mulled over by science historian Amir Aczel in Descartes' Secret Notebook (2005), as it is by Grayling here, albeit briefly. More lengthily, Grayling is intrigued by Descartes' presence, on the Catholic Hapsburg side, France's enemy, at key events in the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War. Grayling cautiously proposes that Descartes was a Jesuit spy. True or not, espionage enlivens what is otherwise Descartes' sedentary story of philosophical reflection, which Grayling tracks chiefly through surviving correspondence. This offers glimpses of Descartes' sociable personality, although he was prone to anger when crossed on points of intellectual pride. An informative presentation of the man behind cogito, ergo sum. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Hero Quick Promo
Holiday Deals in Kindle Books
Save up to 85% on more than 1,000 Kindle Books. These deals are valid until November 30, 2015. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 2nd edition (October 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080271501X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802715012
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,126,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Paludanus on May 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Grayling's Descartes gives the conspicuous impression that it was written for a publisher who was looking to fill a gap in the market and took on the first academic who agreed to help out. The book relies heavily on other biographies, although it makes an attempt to be interesting/novel/sexy by suggesting that Descartes was a spy for the Jesuits. Whatever the merit of that idea, in the meantime the reader learns very little about Descartes and his philosophical thoughts, and absolutely nothing about his mathematical and physical ideas. Bizarrely, contemporary or near-contemporary sources about Descartes (including his own writings) are dismissed as unreliable in favor of latter-day interpretations. You do learn a little about the 30 years' war, and about a few monarchs and popes, but even with that, a stage is not set in which a better biographer would bring his subject to life. In the end, you're told what you already knew, namely that Descartes is a household name, but not how he became famous or why. As a final irritant, Grayling seems incapable of correctly rendering Dutch, French, or German names of people and places. Superficial, beside the point, boring, sloppy.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Paul Mallory on May 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I found Grayling's "Descartes" to be an interesting read from a pure biographical perspective. Although I have an interest in philosophy, Grayling writes in a way that reasonably intelligent laypersons can understand. Unfortunately, though, Grayling treads very little new ground, relying on past biographers of Descartes to do the legwork for him. The only new ground the author treads is relaying the proposition that Descartes was a spy. I actually find this plausible for two reasons: one, it explains Descartes' travelling; two, Descartes doesn't talk about his travelling much in his writings. These two factors give Grayling's hypothesis some weight. Grayling doesn't take too much time expositing Descartes' philosophy, but in an appendex he does give a brief introduction to it. Like I mentioned, the author does rely on other biographers for information, but that fact doesn't take away from the quality of the book. One fact that Grayling kept mentioning was that Descartes seemed to want to portray his ideals as acceptable to the church, and also to have his beliefs fit into the framework of "orthodox" theology of the time. I wondered why Grayling kept hitting on this point so many times, and then I came to the following conclusion: Grayling wants to excuse Descartes. One would imagine that if Descartes applied his method to the idea of the existence of God, one would conclude that it would be necessary to doubt, or even reject, the existence of God. Descartes never stated that God didn't exist, nor did he (as far as I know) even doubt it. By not stating that he doubted it, Descartes attempted to stay on good terms with the church. Descartes' later politiking shows me that he was concerned with ensuring his own safety, both physically and financially, which is fine.Read more ›
1 Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By P. Ermisch on January 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book. I am not a philosophy maven but have always been interested in metaphysics. For me, Grayling's writing is clear and compelling. Descartes as a man and philosopher and his ideas and historical context all get equal treatment. The subtext of Descartes as a spy is interesting and provides good explanation for his constant movement, especially in his younger years. This is the only Descartes biography I've read but I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in him. A section of color and b/w plates help illuminate the subject. There are extensive footnotes. The first of two appendices provides modern context and perspective for Descartes' greatest contributions. The second appendix is a critique of philosopher biographies intended (in my opinion) to point the reader towards additional "good reads."
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael McGivern on January 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is an extremely well written historical (rather than scholarly) biography, but fails to really present the substance of Descartes' ideas and theories. I also have the following criticisms, in no particular order:

1) I was taught to write in clear simple English. To read this book, you'd better have a dictionary handy. The book, understanably, is written in British English, not modern American English. This is not a fault, but the reader should be aware.

2) This book covers Descartes' journeys theroughout 17th century Europe. Accordingly a map of 17th century Europe, with the cities Descartes visited or lived in would have been invaluable.

3) An Introduction or Appendix discussing at some length the the SUBSTANCE of Descartes' books would also have been invaluable.

4) This book mentions many, many persons in Descartes' life. A brief Appendix commenting on the more critical of these persons would have been helpful. Also, the book sometimes notes that certain characters played key roles in Descartes' life, but sometimes fails to provide much depth about such roles.

5) The book notes that Descartes was held in high regard by other contemporary scholars and intellectuals. Based solely on Mr. Grayling's book, I fail to understand why. But I think that's more a failing of Mr. Grayling's book.
2 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Most Recent Customer Reviews