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Ideas Kindle Edition

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Length: 848 pages Matchbook Price: $2.99 What's this?
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Watson's (The Modern Mind) hefty tome distills history's greatest ideas and inventions into an impressive discourse on history's driving forces, enlivened by anecdotes and made approachable by Watson's casual, nearly conspiratorial, tone. Watson presents a vast amount of information, but his greatest strength lies in his ability to make an immensely varied body of material coherent and digestible. The author asks the reader to approach his history "as an alternative to more conventional history-as history with the kings and emperors and dynasties and generals left out," and assumes "readers will know the bare bones of historical chronology." Central to Watson's approach is his belief that the scientific experiment, as it took root in medieval Europe, forever changed history's intellectual landscape. (Watson goes as far as labeling the scientific method "the purest form of democracy there is.") Whereas the non-Western world once dominated intellectual spheres (The author notes that the Hindu mathematician Aryabhata calculated the value of pi and the solar year's length, determined that the earth revolved around the sun and discovered the cause of eclipses nearly a thousand years before Copernicus), Watson points to a grand-and specific-shift that changed that dynamic: "The eleventh and twelfth centuries were a hinge period, when the great European acceleration began. From then on, the history of new ideas happened mainly in what we now call the West." This analysis is indicative of Watson's scholarship, and the result is a rich tapestry of intellectual and cultural life through the ages.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Pegging his narrative to three ideas--the soul, Europe, and experiment--Watson surveys intellectual history for a popular audience. Departing from the earliest indications of abstract thought--tools fashioned by ancestral human species--Watson highlights the crucial efflorescence of artwork 30,000 years ago, followed by the agriculture revolution. Watson then assesses classical Greece as the crucial incubator of ideas, incomparable to any other situation in history. This is the origin of his inclusion of "Europe" as one of his three organizers of a massive sweep of material: while Watson covers the important intellectual influences emanating from Islam, India, and China, he maintains Europe is where the cogitational action has been. Eurocentrism has been a field of fierce academic contests, traces of which bubble up in Watson's consideration of the main phases of Western thought. Judaism, Christianity, the Renaissance and Reformation, the scientific revolution, and the Enlightenment--Watson enfolds changing conceptions of the objective, material world, and of the subjective world of the human psyche in a confident, accessible presentation. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 1455 KB
  • Print Length: 848 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 006621064X
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books (October 13, 2009)
  • Publication Date: October 13, 2009
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FCKC5G
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325,484 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Peter Watson is the author of War on the Mind, Wisdom and Strength, The Caravaggio Conspiracy, Ideas, and The German Genius. Educated at the universities of Durham, London, and Rome, he has written for the Sunday Times, the Times, the New York Times, the Observer, and the Spectator. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 115 people found the following review helpful By A. de Wet on September 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
An absolutely amazing book. It has illuminated so many cause and effect chains for me that I can hardly believe how much I've learnt in such a short time. If history at school could be presented from this angle, it would fundamentally increase the general understanding of who, what and where we are.

Watson is a great writer that conveys an incredible amount of information with a story teller's flair. Quite an investment in time, worth every second.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Fernando Berzal Galiano on March 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a fantastic book that covers how ideas have developed through History and explains a lot of things about ourselves, members of the Western world in the 21st century.

If you are like me, you didn't enjoy your History classes much when they were all about the particular (and too often unrelated) dates of political and military events. Fortunately, brilliant historians such as Peter Watson know how to weave countless facts into an engaging history, from Gilgamesh to the Cavendish Laboratory at the dawn of the 20th century.

Don't you know what Gilgamesh is? Maybe you should take a look at this book and enjoy yourself learning and thinking about things you might have taken for granted and never questioned.

This book is highly recommended for those who, keeping an open mind, want to be aware of how humans have evolved through History and would like to get to the roots of our many habits and traditions.

I wish all educated people could enjoy the insightful comments and innumerable associations of ideas that Peter Watson shares with us in his delightful history of ideas.

Maybe the most encompassing book on History ever written. Certainly the best I have ever read. A book on History from a different perspective.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Hainline on January 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a splendid book. People who did not have a chance to go to university will find, after reading it, that -- if they couldn't before -- they can now hold their end up in a conversation with any history or social science major. Indeed, if they pay close attention to what they read here, they can probably dominate the conversation!

But if you did go to university, here is the chance to (1) fill in all the gaps, those courses you didn't have time to take or slept through, and/or (2) if you are "of a certain age" catch up with what's been happening in your field (and others) since you graduated.

Mark Steyn had a column recently in which he attacked the author for saying that monotheistic religion had been a bad idea, historically. Be that as it may, this is a splendid book, and my only question is: how the devil did the man find time to write it? Or did he have a mulit-disciplinary army of graduate students reading hundreds of books and summarizing them?

If I only bought one book this year, this would be it.
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful By birdmanct on December 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is the history book I've always wanted to read, not a history of war but a history of ideas. A look at the index gives you an inkling of what's in store for the fortunate reader. It's size is a bit intimidating, but the scope and depth of the material demands it.

I thought the NY Times interview [panned by 'Texan' below] was inciteful and funny. To rate a book you clearly haven't read based on a reply in an interview is to deliberately mislead the literate people who would enjoy this book. Please ignore Texan's "review", and do read this book.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Dorothy H. Papp on January 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
Ideas, A History of Thought and Invention from Fire to Freud is an amazing book. Peter Watson knows his brief and can explain some of the most difficult ideas ever conceived by man in words that make them understandable to the popular reader. No, he makes them more than understandable - he makes them fascinating and relevant, showing how they have shaped the fabric of human life to this very day.

Watson's capacity to discuss some of the key controversies of modern science in an even-handed manner is almost as impressive as his scholarship. Nonetheless, it is worth pointing out that it is impossible to publish a book of this scope that will not be out of date in some respects within months. The artifacts reflecting python worship 70,000 years ago in Botswana and found by Sheila Coulson from the University of Oslo, for instance, is strong support for the view that abstract thought emerged gradually in Africa and at a far earlier date than those arguing for a genetic change in European Homo sapiens 40,000 year ago. Nor, perhaps, may the discovery of Homo floresiensis face us with the challenges of explaining how a different human species with such a small brain reached the Indonesian island where their skeletons were found.

It is a surprise that a book about the power of ideas throughout human history should close suggesting that there is probably no such thing as the Platonic "inner self." While discoveries of modern neuroscience are making this an increasingly respectable position to argue, Watson's defense of his view is surprisingly poor.

Despite its riveting interest, actually reading this book is a challenge. Its 822 8x10" pages weigh over 8 pounds, which makes cumbersome bedside reading.
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