James Hannam took a Physics degree at Oxford before training as an accountant. He enjoyed a successful career in the City, mainly financing film production, but harboured ambitions to write about the history of science. In 2001, he started a part time MA at Birkbeck College, London in Historical Research. The experience only served to further whet his appetite for the subject. In 2003, he was accepted at Cambridge to do a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science. His thesis on the decline of medieval learning during the sixteenth century was completed in 2008. In the meantime, he also worked on his book for the general reader, "God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundation of Modern Science" which was published by Icon in 2009. It is published in the US as "The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution". The book was shortlisted for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books in 2010.
James has also written for various magazines and newspapers including the Spectator, History Today, Standpoint and New Scientist. He lives in Kent, England with his wife and two children.
I worry that a book with both "philosophers" and "medieval" in its title will elicit blank faces among potential readers. It would be a shame if it did; for Hannam, a Ph.D. historian of science with degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge, knows how to write readable history -- and the tale he tells is truly fascinating.
This book is the latest entry in a controversy with a history of its own. Hannam speaks of the myth that "there was no science worth mentioning in the Middle Ages," and "the Church held back what meagre advances were made." These beliefs originated as late as the 19th century with Thomas Henry Huxley, John William Draper, and Andrew Dickson White, who tried to paint religion as the enemy of science. Their story has been told often; Hannam himself has blogged on it.
A.D. White's part is particularly unfortunate, in that he produced a highly influential, heavily footnoted, apparently scholarly tome on the historic warfare between science and religion. Hannam assesses his work this way:
"Anyone who checks his references will wonder how he could have maintained his opinions if he had read as much as he claimed to have done."
Other recent historians have treated White less gently than that.
Hannam situates these myths in historical context:
"The denigration of the Middle Ages began as long ago as the sixteenth century, when humanists, the intellectual trendsetters of the time, started to champion classical Greek and Roman literature. They cast aside medieval scholarship on the grounds that it was convoluted and written in `barbaric' Latin. So people stopped reading and studying it.... The waters were muddied further by ... Protestant writers not to give an ounce of credit to Catholics.Read more ›
This book is a gentle, calm, and accessible overview of what history really says about the emergence of science. Hannam enjoys challenging the all-too-common and erroneous narratives we receive from two bit summaries of the Middle Ages. And his evident delight is contagious. A delightful read for anyone interested in real history.
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A great book overall. Yet again the Middles Ages is shown to be an era of great technological, economic, and cultural growth and not one of stagnation. This book clearly shows why the term "Dark Ages" is being tossed on the ash heap of history and that Christianity went hand in hand with science and not against it. James Hannam does a wonderful job in highlighting and explaining the many accomplishments of the Natural Philosophers of this era. I also like how he shows how the history of the era has been greatly distorted due to bias from both Humanists and by the Protestant Reformations. However, I wish he would have gotten into how more modern historians have contributed to the myth of the "Dark Ages". Hannam writes very fairly about the Middle Ages and closely mirrors the writings of David Lindberg, but does not comes as strong as say Edward Grant and Rodney Stark. I only disagreed with Mr. Hannam statements on a few tiny issues in the book, but all related to issues outside of the main topic of Natural Philosophy. Overall I highly recommended this book, certainly a must read for anyone who wants to find out what really happened during the Middle Ages and how modern science began.
This book is an excellent discovery. Thanks to previous reviewers on here who recommended it. Having just read it, is my turn to recommend it now.
There are several reasons to recommend this book. Firstly it is a good historical drama with a rich cast of interesting characters and contexts. The author is a good narrator and takes us through the stories briskly and thoroughly. He gives enough detail to make the point, and if you need further evidence there is a useful reference list as well.
Secondly this book is good at separating the events that happened during the middle ages from the myths and pejorative labels that have been attached to the middle ages by later observers for their own purposes. This book shows that there were never many believers in a flat earth. This book shows that the Christian milieu provided a fertile growing ground for science and was not opposed to science. Conflicts between a literal reading of the bible and science were resolved sensibly and quickly.
The people living in the middle ages did not know they were in the middle of anything. They were humans with their own strengths and weaknesses trying to make sense of the world they found themselves in. They struggled with this as well as they could do and made huge intellectual and technological progress, which we in turn have built on. This book is a glorious story of people and how they used knowledge to better their understanding of the world. It is a glorious example of a historian writing to explore and understand how the world appeared to his subjects, rather than to impose his modern views on a past people.
This book increases our respect for the great medieval scholars and their work, and its role in helping us to get to where we are now. It is a great rehabilitation exercise on an often unjustly mocked period of history. I can recommend it highly to other readers.
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