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The Man Who Loved China (P.S.) [Kindle Edition]

Simon Winchester
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman ("Elegant and scrupulous"—New York Times Book Review) and Krakatoa ("A mesmerizing page-turner"—Time) brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world's most technologically advanced country.

No cloistered don, this tall, married Englishman was a freethinking intellectual, who practiced nudism and was devoted to a quirky brand of folk dancing. In 1937, while working as a biochemist at Cambridge University, he instantly fell in love with a visiting Chinese student, with whom he began a lifelong affair.

He soon became fascinated with China, and his mistress swiftly persuaded the ever-enthusiastic Needham to travel to her home country, where he embarked on a series of extraordinary expeditions to the farthest frontiers of this ancient empire. He searched everywhere for evidence to bolster his conviction that the Chinese were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar innovations—including printing, the compass, explosives, suspension bridges, even toilet paper—often centuries before the rest of the world. His thrilling and dangerous journeys, vividly recreated by Winchester, took him across war-torn China to far-flung outposts, consolidating his deep admiration for the Chinese people.

After the war, Needham was determined to tell the world what he had discovered, and began writing his majestic Science and Civilisation in China, describing the country's long and astonishing history of invention and technology. By the time he died, he had produced, essentially single-handedly, seventeen immense volumes, marking him as the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.

Both epic and intimate, The Man Who Loved China tells the sweeping story of China through Needham's remarkable life. Here is an unforgettable tale of what makes men, nations, and, indeed, mankind itself great—related by one of the world's inimitable storytellers.



Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Simon Winchester's reading, like his clear, concise, graceful writing, reflects his endless fascination with his subject—the British scientist Joseph Needham—and with his subject's subject: Chinese scientists' every invention and contribution to every field of science over five centuries (before the West began to think of such things as the printing press and gunpowder). Winchester reads rapidly, but his diction is so precise (yet never stuffy) that not a word is lost. The vocal warmth and charm mirror his endless awe of Needham's lifetime work on his multivolume magnum opus on Chinese scientific thought. Winchester's tone reveals his delight with Needham's love affairs, his unconventional marriage and relation to his lifelong inamorata who first inspired his love of Chinese language, people and thought. As with every book he's written and narrated, Winchester makes abstruse subjects available and fascinating for every reader and listener. A Harper hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 10). (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

With The Man Who Loved China, Simon Winchester turns out another compelling, readable, and relevant tale. Any good storyteller will embellish his subject, and Winchester effortlessly keeps readers interested in Needham’s adventuresâ€"even when they flag a bit. For the most part, though, Needham’s life is one that relatively few readers will knowâ€"and one that Winchester brings to life with a passel of research and an ever-present sense of wonder for his unique subject. Despite some errors and repetition, the book is also a good starting point for any reader who seeks another path to understanding the roots of Chinese civilization.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1546 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0017T09J0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,824 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
142 of 146 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4th biography May 14, 2008
Format:Hardcover
Simon Winchester certainly has the creative power to immortalize anyone or thing he writes about, and so it is with the life of Joseph Needham (1900-1995), a Cambridge scholar polymath. Needham is probably obscure to most people, but among his Don peers he is a legendary as the writer of a massive encyclopedia on Chinese science and civilization designed to answer that great question: Why was China the mother lode of scientific and cultural innovation for so long, and why did it come to a stop by the 15th century - why didn't the Industrial revolution happen in China? At one point China was making 15 great innovations per century (paper, compass, stirrup, etc..), according to Needham, but then the country stagnated and for the last 500 years or so had a reputation for backwardness and poverty. Similar to Jared Diamond's "Yali Question" (why did Europe have "cargo" and Yali didn't?), Needham set out to find answers by cataloging the history of Chinese innovation. He created a massive multi-volume encyclopedia of such prodigious learning, value and length it has been compared with James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary, or Sidney Lee and the Dictionary of National Biography.

I've now read all four of Winchesters biographies (The Professor and the Madman (1998), The Map That Changed the World (2001), The Meaning of Everything (2003)) and I would rank "China" as good as 'The Meaning', not as good as 'Professor' and better than "Map".
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88 of 93 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This is a most timely biography, its publication coinciding with the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a disastrous major earthquake, which have together turned the eyes of the world's media onto the "Middle Kingdom", as the Chinese have confidently called their country for 5,000 years, believing throughout this time that it is indeed the centre of the world. It now seems that China's (and Needham's) time in the spotlight has come at last.

I remember Joseph Needham as the Master of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University when I matriculated there as a young man in 1975, though he retired from the Mastership one year later. The Needham Research Institute at Cambridge for the study of East Asian history, science and technology preserves his name, while in China he is known as Li Yue-se, the name given to him by the woman who later became his second wife at the outset of his Chinese language studies "[i]n order to commingle her pupil's identity with his linguistic passion, and thus more effectively bind him to the wheel" (p. 40).

The descriptions I heard as an undergraduate of Needham as a "Marxist Catholic" [sic.] and "a great Chinese scholar" barely do justice to the man. Though I never remember having a conversation with the Great Man and was quite in awe of him, I often saw his slightly stooping figure - crowned somewhat mysteriously by a beret - walking in the old courts of the College. (He also sent me a telegram which I remember verbatim and treasure to this day: "Elected Scholarship Caius College. Congratulations Needham Master.")

Needham was - as Winchester says - a sociable man and invited us freshmen (including Alastair Campbell, later spin-doctor to Tony Blair) to meet him once in the Master's Lodge.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sinophilia orgy July 23, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have decided to elevate Joseph Needham to the ranks of my primary heroes. That means he joins Vinegar Joe Stilwell (the American General who tried to teach Chiang Kai Shek how to run an army so that he might win a war; he failed, as you probably know) and Alfred Russell Wallace (the man who found that evolution works via natural selection, but had a marketing disadvantage to his colleague Charles Darwin; the theory is called Darwinism, not Wallacism, as you might know). Needham wrote close to 20000 pages on the history of Chinese science and civilization, he was a most amazing alround scientist. The 'book', or should we call it a library, is unsurpassed in his subject - but have you ever heard of it? I mean you, the non-expert on China. Let me know. I suspect very few people outside an inner circle ever heard of it.
Winchester has published quite a few books on diverse subjects. I mainly like his travel books: first a walk through South Korea, then a ship ride up the Yangzi. Given that he is an experienced travel writer, I am a bit puzzled by some of his geographical gaffes: flying over the hump from India to Kunming, the connection from British India to National China during WW2, W. claims the plane had to cross glaciers. Well, not likely. Better look it up on a map. Glacial melting can't have progressed that much since then. Or: Needham's first stop in China is Kunming, where he allegedly watches the sun set over the distant Tibetan hills on his first evening after arriving. Odd in view of the hundreds km distance from Kunming to Tibet and the fact that the city has its own hills to the West.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars this book has also made me a devoted fun of Simon Winchester
Riveting! I have long been an admirer of Joseph Needham’s work on China. This book has brought flesh to the bone of the fascinating man. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Yan
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting introduction to Joseph Needham and his work in China ...
Interesting introduction to Joseph Needham and his work in China recovering Chinese science and technology during WWII. Well organized presentation of the story.
Published 1 month ago by a
4.0 out of 5 stars educational story about an interesting question
Needham is a strong character who was clearly driven by intellectual curiosity. His exploration of China gave western thinkers a great trove of history. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Elaine Perea
5.0 out of 5 stars Winchaster is a wonderful writer. I always get the feeling that he ...
Winchaster is a wonderful writer. I always get the feeling that he is writing about members of his extended famkily, folks he admires and enjoys being with. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Fredika
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fabulous book about a fabulous man. It couldn't put the book down. What a man! What a book!
Published 2 months ago by Uncle Sam
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I learned a great deal about China.
Published 2 months ago by honey2010
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Another great story from one of my favorite authors.
Published 2 months ago by Auntie Di
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Learn about China from a different perspective.
Published 2 months ago by F. Parker
5.0 out of 5 stars Winchester at his best.
Great book about Joseph Needham, who "really" contributed to truth in history and we'd never heard of him. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Gerald V. Cinq-Mars
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of historical importance
It was very educational and I love history, especially ancient history. Simon Winchester can make any subject interesting and joyful to read.
Published 4 months ago by Judy D Neel
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More About the Author

Simon Winchester studied geology at Oxford and has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, and National Geographic. Simon Winchester's many books include The Professor and the Madman ; The Map that Changed the World ; Krakatoa; and A Crack in the Edge of the World. Each of these have both been New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. Mr. Winchester was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by HM The Queen in 2006. He lives in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.


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