57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A PRECIOUS DISCOVERY
A truly wonderful book. One that should be used as a textbook in History in high school. Easily readable, it takes the reader on a voyage of far reaching proportions. What is it that makes this book so pleasurable and instructive? A fresh approach to the evolution of knowledge and science as experienced historically by the pioneers. The exploration in retrospective of the...
Published on February 1, 2003 by Luciano Lupini
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bold project, dragged down by showiness
I must join the minority report. I've owned this book for years, find it a remarkable accomplishment full of fascinating facts and biographies... but halfway through trying to finish Book III, Section 3, Part 5.1.B for the 32nd time, I'm throwing in the towel. There's something about Boorstin's writing style that puts me to sleep, and I think it's what an earlier...
Published on June 24, 2007 by Duke Ray
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A PRECIOUS DISCOVERY,
This review is from: The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself (Hardcover)A truly wonderful book. One that should be used as a textbook in History in high school. Easily readable, it takes the reader on a voyage of far reaching proportions. What is it that makes this book so pleasurable and instructive? A fresh approach to the evolution of knowledge and science as experienced historically by the pioneers. The exploration in retrospective of the discovery of the concept of time and the clock, the compass, the telescope, the microscope and the evolutionary description of the knowledge that mankind acquired through these instruments and the bold steps of the pioneers that wondered around the seas, the cosmos, the mind, etc.. Why is it that modern culture, the different cultures and science are the way they are ? You will find a lot of answers about how this came to happen in the book by the former Librarian of Congress and senior historian of the Smithsonian Institution.
After I read this book, the promise made in the Washington Post Book World's review to it, I found fulfilled: "few indeed will be the readers who do not themselves become discoverers....." This book is one of the most outstanding discoveries that I made in my quest for knowledge. You must not overlook it.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Popular History in the best sense of the term,
This review is from: The Discoverers (Paperback)Daniel Boorstin's Discoverers is a delight to read. Its sweeping theme is humanity's discovery of the natural and social world we inhabit. There are major sections that deal with the discovery of the calendar and the invention of the clock; the geographical discoveries of the 15th to 18th centuries; the natural world of astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology; and the social world of historiography and economics. An approach of this sort can't help but be anecdotal which might offend the sensibilities of many professional historians. Yet, for educated laymen (and those historians who recognize the importance of well written synthesis and popularization) the anecdotes are valuable illustrations of his theme-- and great fun to read. I learned much from this book: details of the lives and work of such luminaries and Isaac Newton, Christopher Columbus and Adam Smith; also of the lives of lesser known discoverers such as Aldus Manutius, Amerigo Vespucci and the Chinese explorer Cheng Ho. His bibliographic essay at the end is an excellent resource for further reading. I look forward to reading The Creators and The Seekers, the next two books in the trilogy.
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This was one of my college textbooks.,
This review is from: The Discoverers (Paperback)I was very lucky to have Daniel Boorstin's "The Discoverers" assigned as a textbook for an undergraduate class I took back in the spring of 1988 on European Expansion and Colonization from 1450-1750. Ordinarily, history textbooks are a bit dry. I enjoyed reading them enough to end up only one class short of a double major in History, but this one stood out head and shoulders above the rest.
For a change, the text completely held my attention. Instead of only reading the assigned portions, I read the entire book. Upon discussing this with my classmates, I learned that each of them had done the same.
Perhaps my memory is tainted because this was an overall fun class where we studied actual sailable scale models of caravels built using the actual techniques of the time. But, I recently finished re-reading the book and it was just as much fun the eighth or ninth time around. I've read it so many times that I've lost count.
The two sections that I've always found riveting are the discovery of longitude and Captain Cook muddling around Antarctica. This book is just wonderful. I only wish that the sequel, "The Creators", was just as good. I found that one to be a bit rambling.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Books I Have Ever Read,
This review is from: The Discoverers (Paperback)I was moved to write this as I learned of Daniel Boorstin's death. While he is gone, his book, "The Discoverers" will be with us for many years as a classic.
I have been in both multi-national and venture environments for thirty years, bringing pioneering advanced medical technologies to the global marketplace. When I stumbled onto "The Discoverers" in 1987, I could not put it down. This is a must book for anyone involved in the process of discovery.
Boorstin clearly shows that discovery is the adventure of discovering a fundamental truth... While the earth has always been round and bacteria have been here longer than mankind, our understanding of fundamental 'truths' like these took years to discover. Money, prestige, power, suppressed independent thinking, and laziness all combined to create a 'group think,' a status quo, that was difficult to change. Boorstin shows how 'group think' worked against the acceptance of new ideas, and the eventual discovery of truth. Those who are involved in discovery will recognize that these same obstacles stand in our way today.
I have purchased 50+ copies since I bought my first copy. I have given them as gifts to others who have dedicated their lives as entreprenuers, scientists, and/or venture capitalists in an effort to creating a better world. This is a book that tells their story and why they must not give up.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bold project, dragged down by showiness,
This review is from: The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself (Boorstin Trilogy) (Paperback)I must join the minority report. I've owned this book for years, find it a remarkable accomplishment full of fascinating facts and biographies... but halfway through trying to finish Book III, Section 3, Part 5.1.B for the 32nd time, I'm throwing in the towel. There's something about Boorstin's writing style that puts me to sleep, and I think it's what an earlier reviewer noted -- a certain smugness, a certain showiness that needlessly complicates the story he's trying to tell.
Certainly, there's a bit of audacity and vainglorious ambition to anyone who would attempt what Boorstin does here, and I don't begrudge him that ambition. He's clearly an incredibly brilliant man.
But, jeez, does he have to make sure you know it.
I just can't shake the sense that the author is more interested in showing off just how much he's read and retained, the brilliant scope of his knowledge, than in making that knowledge accessible to the reader. For example, as noted by others, Boorstin will use an obscure term for dozens of pages before he finally gets around to defining it. While possibly not intended, the effect on this reader is of being intellectually bullied. One is pummeled by so many names, terms and Latin phrases, that the reader must just swallow Boorstin's interpretations, because clearly the man knows more than any of us mere mortals could ever aspire towards.
So much fascinating history is here, but I have to find a source that doesn't cause my eyes to glaze over as The Discovers does.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, but it does have shortcomings,
This review is from: The Discoverers (Paperback)Boorstin's amazingly thorough and eminently readable account of 'Man the Discoverer' was a pleasure to read. Instructive without being pedantic, this approach offers history writing at its best. There are few shortcomings, though, that prevent it from a '10' rating. Lack of illustrations limits the book's effectiveness: many geographic areas Boorstin mentions are not commonly known, so maps would be helpful; and complex concepts (such as the "escapement mechanism" in time pieces) are not successfully explained in words, and desparately need pictures to demonstrate what he is talking about. Boorstin is also extremely limited in his discussions of discovery in the 20th century. Einstein is barely mentioned, powered flight isn't discussed, communication revolutions of discovery such as telephone, radio, or television aren't covered, and no mention is made of computers nor the amazing things we've discovered with their use. This does not prevent Boorstin from giving an inordinate amount of attention to other 20th century figures such as Freud in psychiatry or Keynes in economics. (Are these things really "discoveries" in the same sense as the other things he covers in the book??) Overall, this is a fine book, but it could be better.
54 of 71 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sorry, I don't get it!,
This review is from: The Discoverers (Paperback)After reading through all the other reviews for this book, I am dumbfounded! Almost everybody seems to have loved it! Something must be wrong with me.
On the off chance that you'll be interested in a minority report, here are some of the things I *didn't* love about this book:
1. He expects us to take his word for everything. Now I'm just as annoyed by footnotes as the next guy, but for Pete's sake, this author just assumes that we will believe anything he chooses to tell us. Surely, without descending into academic mannerisms, there was some way he could have informed us where he got at least some of his reams of information? Not a clue, other than in a horrendously unhelpful appendix.]
2. The book is so big the author forgets what he's already said. He contradicts himself. When he isn't doing that, he repeats himself. When he isn't doing that, he assumes that we know what words we've never heard of before mean, and assumes we *don't* know what common words used familiarly mean. Strange! [Along about the fifteenth time I have the bizarre words 'trivium' and 'quadrivium' thrown at me, I start wanting to throw them back. He doesn't bother to define them until half way through the book, and then he suddenly realizes we probably don't know what they mean. Duh!]
3. I don't know if it's the author's fault or that of the editors, but the organization leaves a lot to be desired. One would assume that a book about discoverers would be organized somehow in reference to the people being talked about. No such luck. It's organized [sort of] by large areas of general topic. Time. Geography. Anthropology. Cosmology. Etc. But there's a problem with that. Galileo, for example, was in some sense a physicist, an astronomer, an inventor, a rebel, and probably lots of other things too. So in the section of the book about Time, we meet Galileo the discoverer of the principle of the measurement of time via pendulum. In the section about Cosmology, we meet him as the refiner of the telescope and in some sense its inventor for astronomical purposes. And therefore we meet him again in the section about Invention. And every time we meet him, we get fed the exact same information about him that we got fed the first time we met him. This approach makes an already long book seem to last forever. Toward the end I found myself almost skimming at times, which is something I almost *never* do. But come on, enough is enough already! [About the tenth time of being shouted at about how great a guy Marco Polo was, I wanted to shout back, "You already TOLD me that"!]
4. The tone throughout the book is condescending. "I know stuff you don't know, ha ha. Lick my boots, reader." Or, at other times, "Aren't you just in awe of how much I know?" Well, clearly, judging from the other reviews here, most readers *are* in awe. Sorry, I don't get it. It's one thing to offer oneself as sort of an all-purpose neo-Renaissance man full of so much unrelated information that it spills all over everything. It's another thing to be so proud of it that one can't help crowing.
5. The author can't make up his mind whether to worship or loathe certain ethnic groups. Sometimes he attempts to do both at once. For example, he praises the part of the world under the influence of the Muslim religion, then turns right around and uses insulting words to describe that religion's practitioners! He goes on and on about how forward-thinking and precocious the Chinese often were, then describes their culture as 'stultified.' He praises the rulers of the Mongol Empire in one breath, then berates them in another, with no explanation for the change of viewpoint. It's confusing. Not to mention snobbish.
But enough already. Clearly, the consensus is that everyone should read this book. Well, I did. I'm sorry I did. I wish I'd spent the time some other way. Just as you by this point are wishing you had spent your time some other way than in reading this review!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top of the list,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself (Hardcover)My favorite book. I read it once every two or three years, just for the enjoyment. It's easily the most interesting book I've read, with seemingly a revelation to some forgotten question on every page (particularly early on in the book. I know it sounds crazy, but the first 350 - 400 pages really fly!) Simply, it's about how man observed the world around him and his struggle to get a handle on it, use it, catologue it. (intermingled with about 20 biographies). Calenders, clocks, maps, the great voyages of discovery (both West and East, like Colombus and Polo), telescopes, microscopes, fossil records, evolution.....etc. If one has any interest at all in either history or science, this book is a pleasure to read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The history of knowledge,
This review is from: The Discoverers (Paperback)This is a hard book to write a synopsis of. It encompasses so much it's hard to say what it's about exactly. It is however very easy to recommend this book. The book leaves you in awe. Awe at man the discover (whom the author states is his hero). This is an uplifting history, man here is creative, brave, inspired and we see the story of ourselves as one of accomplishments and of achieving great things in arts, humanities, the social and physical sciences. The book literally covers the alphabet of knowledge from Astronomy to Zoology. It is the breadth of knowledge the book contains that leaves you in awe of Boorstin. How can one human being know so much?. Almost every second sentence reveals some nugget of knowledge, much of it new to me, even in subjects I thought myself familiar with.
A unique aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the frequent interjections of word origins. While discussing a subject, if a particular word came up, Boorstin might stop and take a sentence or two two give the reader a brief history of the Latin or Greek origin of the word. Nice touch. Overall this is an immensely researched and lovingly crafted book. It is an enriching reading experience.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, Interesting and Dry,
This review is from: The Discoverers (Paperback)This book tells the story of mankind's scientific heroes throughout the ages. It focuses mainly on renaissance age discoveries and inventions, and is mostly (but not completely) Eurocentric.
Daniel Boorstin has obviously put an amazing amount of time and effort into this comprehensive book. The result is over 700 pages of tightly spaced text that cover everything from geography, to anthropology, to economics, and all the way to physics and chemistry.
The book's strengths are also its weaknesses. "The Discoverers" is as comprehensive as a doctoral dissertation, and often reads like one. Latin words and phrases are liberally sprayed throughout the text, and at times I felt as if Boorstin was intentionally trying to use the most obscure terms just for the fun of it. I also found the text and the narration to be mostly dry. This book is not an easy read.
I am an avid fan of scientific history books. I enjoyed the awe inspiring scope of this work, and its ability to illustrate the connections and interactions between scientists and their peers, and to show how discoveries and inventions were often based on earlier works. However, I felt that this format does not allow for the proper exploration of each topic. For example, the amazing discoveries of Faraday and Maxwell, are together told in only 4 pages...
The bottom line is that "The Discoverers" is not easy to read, and while it gives a tantalizing glimpse into a large number of topics, each of these topics is only briefly discussed. However, the sheer scope of the book gives the reader a fascinating bird's eye view of man's struggle to understand his world.
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The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin (Paperback - February 12, 1985)