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Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet Kindle Edition

25 customer reviews

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Length: 352 pages

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Editorial Reviews


“An inspiring read.” — New Scientist

“A sprightly, stimulating and surprising study.” — The Scotsman

“An impressively cohesive story that is full of delightful characters and fascinating details.” — Austin Chronicle

“A magnificent overview of the history of knowledge production in the West.” — Times Higher Education

About the Author

Ian F. McNeely teaches at the University of Oregon and lives in Eugene.

Product Details

  • File Size: 457 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 17, 2008)
  • Publication Date: August 17, 2008
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00421BN5E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,482 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet
Review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

In this delightful, well-written, and fully documented 276-page (of text) book, with 25 pages of notes, you will discover a wonderful, fully absorbing, history book that, in my mind, completely and satisfactorily answers the question the authors set out to answer: How does history help us understand the vast changes we are now experiencing in the landscape of knowledge? Further, what are the pivotal points of institutional change and cultural transformation from the classical period to the present?

With Reinventing Knowledge you must enjoy an intellectual challenge, it is true, but if you are interested in the key institutions (i.e., the library, the monastery, the university, the republic of letters, the disciplines, and the laboratory) that have shaped and channeled knowledge in the West, this is certainly a book that will both dazzle and exhilarate your senses.

Because of my background in speech communication, I was particularly drawn to the early section in which they explain the public arenas of democratic Athens where competitive speech and writing took center stage, but were considered an inferior path to truth. There was, then, a shift to knowledge as written then, in another shift, to libraries that could produce Homer's epics as well as the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible -- which made knowledge portable. In yet another shift, monasteries arose as key knowledge institutions to not just preserve written culture of the ancient past but create new frameworks for understanding as well.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By E. Jaksetic on September 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
This ambitious book surveys the history of knowledge from ancient times to the present. More than just a historical catalogue of events and institutions, this book sets forth an argument that institutions of knowledge have changed, adapted, and evolved over the centuries, and that "knowledge has been fundamentally reinvented fully six times in the history of the West" (Book at p. 253). In setting forth their argument, the authors discuss and examine six institutions of knowledge: the library, the monastery, the university, the Republic of Letters, the disciplines, and the laboratory. The authors take an interdisciplinary approach -- using history, philosophy, biography, and sociology -- to examine those six institutions of knowledge. Each chapter on the six institutions of knowledge could be the subject of a separate book, so the reader should not expect a complete and comprehensive discussion of each of the six institutions.

Although the book is extremely ambitious in its breadth and scope, it is generally written in a fairly readable style that is accessible to the general public and non-experts. But, it is not for casual reading and requires some thought and attention from the reader to follow the book's argument. As an intellectual history, this book is interesting, informative, and thought-provoking. Although it is a good survey and worthwhile introduction to institutions of knowledge, this book should not be read as the definitive book on the subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jason Hodge on March 26, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book seems to inspire a "love it or hate it" response from its readers, with very little room in between. I read Reinventing Knowledge for a college course, and this widely split opinion of the book was very evident in my class. I find myself on the "love it" side, but will do my best to give an objective view of both the strengths and weaknesses of this book.

On the positive side, there is some very interesting information in this book. The authors look at the history of how knowledge is created, transmitted and preserved, stretching from ancient Greece through the late twentieth century. This book does a good job of looking at each major shift in how knowledge has evolved, examining the similarities and differences between them. I have read this book twice, and picked up much more on the second reading, after having gotten used to the dry writing style. There are a number of patterns stretching through the historical material covered by the authors, which really made me think and wonder how these patterns will apply in today's world and into the future.

Unfortunately, getting at the gems of information presented by McNeely and Wolverton takes a lot of work on the reader's part. The book is written in a very dry, technical style with language that at times seems intentionally and unnecessarily complex and convoluted. This is why I gained so much more from my second reading, as much of the first was spent adapting to the complex writing and looking up unfamiliar terms. I would definitely recommend getting the Kindle version of this book as the built in dictionary makes the process much quicker and less painful.

The other main complaint I have about this book has to do with my expectations based on the title of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book identifies six major institutions of knowledge throughout Western civilization: 1) the library in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds; 2) the monasteries of the Middle Ages; 3) the Renaissance university; 4) the "republic of letters" around the Enlightenment; 5) the mass educational systems and academic specialties of the 18th and 19th centuries; and 6) the scientific laboratories both inside and outside of academics which arose in the 19th century.

The authors are ambitious, and are not afraid to generalize on almost every page. This big picture painting is welcome, however the footnotes are really not extensive enough for a student to be able to backtrack to the necessary evidence for all of the claims made.

It is eye-opening to learn that knowledge was not trafficked in the distant past as we may first assume. I had not realized the extent to which classical Greece was NOT concerned with the written word -- that Plato was, after all, writing down real or imagined oral works, and Aristotle may have been ahead of his time, inspiring the turn to writing at Alexandria. I also got the sense from this book that the monks who in effect delivered the classical mind to the Renaissance would not have thought of their work as preserving knowledge for the world, but rather as safeguarding it from the world.

When the authors get to the 20th century I felt things get more confusing. How can you summarize the forms and institutions of knowledge in the modern world in a helpful, meaningful way? I did find the discussions of chemists and social scientists interesting, but I cannot judge how well the authors' project was carried out in this era.

The writing is fairly good for the intended lay audience.
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