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The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution Hardcover – March 22, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Maybe the Dark Ages Weren’t So Dark After All…

Here are some facts you probably didn’t learn in school:
People in the Middle Ages did not think the world was flat—in fact, medieval scholars could prove it wasn’t
The Inquisition never executed anyone because of their scientific ideas or discoveries (actually, the Church was the chief sponsor of scientific research and several popes were celebrated for their knowledge of the subject)
It was medieval scientific discoveries, methods, and principles that made possible Western civilization’s “Scientific Revolution”

If you were taught that the Middle Ages were a time of intellectual stagnation, superstition, and ignorance, you were taught a myth that has been utterly refuted by modern scholarship.

As a physicist and historian of science James Hannam shows in his brilliant new book, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, that without the scholarship of the “barbaric” Middle Ages, modern science simply would not exist.

The Middle Ages were a time of one intellectual triumph after another. As Dr. Hannam writes, “The people of medieval Europe invented spectacles, the mechanical clock, the windmill, and the blast furnace by themselves. Lenses and cameras, almost all kinds of machinery, and the industrial revolution itself all owe their origins to the forgotten inventors of the Middle Ages.”

In The Genesis of Science you will discover

Why the scientific accomplishments of the Middle Ages far surpassed those of the classical world
How medieval craftsmen and scientists not only made discoveries of their own, but seized upon Eastern inventions—printing, gunpowder, and the compass—and improved them beyond the dreams of their originators
How Galileo’s notorious trial before the Inquisition was about politics, not science
Why the theology of the Catholic Church, far from being an impediment, led directly to the development of modern science

Provocative, engaging, and a terrific read, James Hannam’s Genesis of Science will change the way you think about our past—and our future.

From the Back Cover


"With an engaging fervour, James Hannam has set about rescuing the reputation of a bunch of half-forgotten thinkers, and he shows how they paved the way for modern science." --Boris Johnson, Mail on Sunday

"This book contains much valuable material summarised with commendable no-nonsense clarity...James Hannam has done a fine job of knocking down an old caricature." --Sunday Telegraph

"Hannam, the liveliest of guides, makes enjoyable reading out of some seriously dusty history and difficult ideas." --Scotsman

"Here, in short, is a readable book, aimed at an intelligent but ignorant layman. You'll enjoy it." --Daniel Hannan MEP, Daily Telegraph

"A very useful general survey of a difficult topic, and a robust defence of an unfairly maligned age." --Spectator

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing; 1st edition (March 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596981555
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596981553
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 111 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Gilson on March 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I reviewed this book in its English edition in 2009, when it was released under the title _God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science." It concerned me that a book with "philosophers" and "medieval" in its title might elicit only blank-faced stares among potential readers. Of course I was viewing it from my own American perspective; the English are undoubtedly more sophisticated about these things than we are. If it had that effect anywhere it would be a shame, 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. The U.S. version comes with "Genesis" and "Science" situated provocatively together in the title instead. I hope that stirs up a sizable readership, for this book deserves it.

It is the latest entry in a controversy with a history of its own. Hannam tells 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 took flower 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."

Others have treated White less gently than that.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Bjrn Are Davidsen on March 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Few subjects may confuse or create more controversies than "science and religion". It doesn't help much that the Medieval Period more often than not still is called the Dark Ages.

The result is a silly series of myths and misunderstandings. I have on several occasions thrown my hands up in despair when people refuses to accept that no serious scientist (or natural philosopher as it was called in those days) in the Middle Ages believed that the earth was flat or was persecuted by The Church for their science. Or that anything of value really happened between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

The myths perpetuated in the 19th century by people like Draper and White surface also in bestsellers by Carl Sagan, Daniel Boorstin, William Manchester and Charles Freeman to name a few.

Even if historians of science like Lindberg and Numbers long have shown that Draper and White rarely get it right, and e.g. Grant has described the positive effects of the Medieval Age on western rationality, James Hannam gives it all an illuminating and sometimes amusing spin.

"The Genesis of Science" combines a thorough knowledge of the period with an engaging readability. Persons and politics are made alive, from the early middle ages to the various minor renaissances and recoverings of ancient learning, especially in the Twelfth Century.

The story is well told about how Aristotle's pagan science was christianised and why Oxford philosophers like Grosseteste, Bacon and Ockham were so influential. As well as the efforts to correct the errors of Aristotle by the so called Merton Calculators.

Hannam also gives us a pretty good idea why people came to dismiss the period.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jeri VINE VOICE on June 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Alfred North Whitehead said the reason the west developed science was Christian theology. This is what he stated: "There seems but one source...It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God...Every detail was supervised and ordered; the search in to nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality".

In "The Genesis of Science" Hannan argues persuasively that real science started in the west during the Middle Ages.

And the cornerstone for the development of science was "the invention of the university" (p 66. Universities were open to all. The courses centered on logic, reason, and natural philosophy, essentially giving every student a background in logic and the basics of science.

There was constant cross pollination between science and theological debates. As Hanan explains, "Many theologians also wrote important works of natural philosophy, and they considered the subject an essential part of their training" (p 347.

In addition to the thousands of inventions and the spreading knowledge of science, the Middle Ages also created the concept of rights, which stemmed directly from Christian theology.
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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful By JP Holding on March 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Readers of my material may recognize James Hannam, the author of this book, from his website Bede's Library and as the author of a an introduction to my own book on the so-called "Christ myth" (claim that Jesus did not exist). The Genesis of Science is not exactly an apologetics book - it's more like a narrative history with a mild apologetics emphasis, in this case, addressing some of the myths having to do with Christianity and the Middle Ages. It's all that good stuff we've become familiar with as issues: They all though the earth was flat; the Inquisition stopped science in its tracks; Galileo was badly brutalized and if it were not for that we'd all be flying to the Andromeda Galaxy by now. There's also plenty of material here on far more obscure aspects of the Middle Ages, with biographical glimpses into persons ranging from theological celebrities like Aquinas to persons you could stump someone with at Trivial Pursuit, like Gerard of Cremona.

Hannam's style is engaging; there's no failure here to bring his subject to life, so this is an excellent overview and introduction to the subject matter. Highly recommended.
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