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The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery and Invention Paperback – June 1, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-1853752926 ISBN-10: 1853752924
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Needham, the foremost Western historian of Chinese science, has written 15 volumes of his projected 25-volume Science and Civilisation in China series initiated in 1954. This immense, authoritative work has long needed distillation for the general reader, and British writer Temple impressively accomplishes the task here. Beautifully illustrated, the book describes some 5000 years of Chinese science, discovery and invention from agriculture, astronomy and engineering through industrial technology, medicine, math and music, up to, in an ironic closing chapter, the Chinese genius in warfare, including ancient Chinese usage of mustard gas, gunpowder and rockets. The book is an exhilarating celebration of historic achievements, the breadth of which will astonish the general reader. BOMC alternate; Macmillan Book Club selection.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Wonderfully illustrated, comprehensive, concise, definitive."

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Prion (June 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1853752924
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853752926
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 7.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,987,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Deirdre A. Le Blanc on May 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
There are both good and bad aspects of this book. First, it is an overall look at China's ancient technology. Not a bad idea. However, it is terse, and not very in-depth. I would recommend reading Sterling Seagrave's Lords of the Rim, which has added information regarding Needham's research - like the wonderful look at China's naval expertise and their huge ships that plied the seas (with room for horses and gardens), which Genius of China does not mention. Genius, however, is a great resource for folks who know nothing about China's ancient scientific discoveries, and is, therefore, an incentive to study further.
I disagree with one reviewer. I do not find Temple distainful of Western thought and scientific expertise. One has to remember the difficulties Europe was going through prior to and during the Renaissance and Reformation in regard to fighting for the freedom to study science openly - without the fear of inquisition. England, having divorced itself from Rome, was freer to read, experiment with, and discover the truths behind the Chinese knowledge - much of which was coming out of the Orient through the returning missionaries. Even though the Protestants abhorred the Jesuits, they were very interested in learning and using what the Jesuits had discovered while in China. Understanding a little more about Western history during this period illustrates why the West was "behind" the Chinese in their scientific endeavors. In addition, many of these European scientists made their own experiments derived from that knowledge and did not give credit to the Chinese.
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89 of 101 people found the following review helpful By W. D ONEIL on October 30, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a compendium of interesting Chinese innovations in science and technology, scattered across several millennia of history, attractively illustrated and for the most part clearly described. There are no references to which one can turn for more information on specific topics. It's an antiquarian's book - - a bit in the spirit often seen among Chinese antiquarians, in fact.

What it is not, unfortunately, is a coherent history of the development of Chinese thought and practice in science and technology. Nor does it provide a well-founded account of how Chinese science and technology influenced and was influenced by other societies.

There is a brief but graceful and interesting introductory essay by the late Dr. Joseph Needham, FRS, the notable biologist who developed a great enthusiasm for Chinese scientific and technological history and authored a remarkable multi-volume survey, Science and Civilisation in China.

The author of the present work unfortunately repeats and greatly compounds the worst weaknesses of Needham's history, with exactly the opposite effect to that he intends. If he knows of no early European examples of a particular development (which often is simply because of gaps in his knowledge of the relevant history) then he automatically ascribes the eventual European development to diffusion from Chinese sources. This is "post hoc ergo propter hoc" run amok, and the logical fallacy is transparent even to those readers who know little of the historical facts. In many cases it is indeed likely that diffusion was important for European development, but by his summary treatment of the causal issue, the author will lead many to doubt it.

One sifnificant example shows what is at work here. Temple (on pp.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful By James Tan Siang Hwa on June 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
Personally, I am a bit disappointed in its coverage which seems not so in depth... But nevertheless sufficient for the layman to at least catch a glimpse of what the ancient Chinese has achieved. By profession, I am a trained Engineer and am currently seeking a Masters in Theoretical Physics. And of course I am a Singaporean Chinese. From young, I was taught alot of Chinese Maths and Chinese algorithmic methods .. which were dry and boring then..and which was more often than not confusing. Now it was confusing not because it is not good but rather we were taught Western methods that stresses different computational methodology.. But the difference is that the Chinese method can sometimes do it faster!!..For example: what is 1 + 3 + 5 +..+ 17? Chinese method would just point to the 9th finger and give the answer as 81. I have often wondered just what do the Ancient Chinese know that I do not... And so I set a course to find out as many things I could about my ancestors..(which many people may look down on)..First.. I needed to find out about Chinese Mathematics Achievments, the extent of their knowledge..I am not at all convinced about the allegation that it was imported from elsewhere.. simply because China was geograpically isolated and there are no countries around which it could borrow knowledge from ...At its height, it was the most advanced .... (until Qing Dynasty and the jesuit input: By then the Chinese had deteriorated...). that China had indeed some impressive achievements: that of discovering Zero...( shown in 2002) the knowledge of Phythagoras, that of being the first in solving n-Degree Equation..that of solving Similar Triangle..and more.... And all these could be gathered from the net.. Second, I wanted to find out just how advanced the Science were...Read more ›
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