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Descartes: A Biography Hardcover – March 6, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is an excellent critical and contextual presentation of the development of Descartes's thought in its historical context."
Richard Watson, Washington University, Journal of the History of Philosophy

"...highly recommended for library and biography shelves." Wisconsin Bookwatch

Book Description

Descartes' main contribution to the history of ideas was his effort to construct a philosophy that would be sympathetic to the new sciences that emerged in the seventeenth century. To a great extent he was the midwife to the Scientific Revolution and a significant contributor to its key concepts. This is the first biography in English that addresses the full range of Descartes' interest in theology, philosophy, and the sciences, and that traces his intellectual development through his entire career.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1St Edition edition (March 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521823013
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521823012
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,014,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on March 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Let's make this short but sweet: Over the last few years there has been a spate of Descartes biographies, none of them satisfying. But now Cambridge U. Press has come out with what I feel will be the standard biography of Descartes, and it had better be, inasmuch as it's over 500 pages. Clarke's biography differs from the others in that he takes the full range of Descartes' interests into account (theology, philosophy and the science) as he traces Descartes' intellectual development and his ultimate role as midwife to the Scientific Revolution, a role he `inherited' from Kepler and Galileo and one which he expanded into a search for a theory that would link theology, science and philosophy. A recluse who spent much of his life in Holland and kept in touch with the intellectual currents of his day mainly by correspondence, Descartes was a fascinating character ands Clarke does an excellent job straddling the line between Descartes the man and Descartes the thinker.

In addition, the book is quite well-written; a worthy addition to the Cambridge U. Press series of Philosophical Biographies. (Previous subjects include Spinoza, Hobbes, Hegel, Kant and Kierkegaard.) While demonstrating his mastery of his subject, Clarke does an excellent job of explaining Descartes' philosophy and intellectual interests without boring his readers, a trick more scholarly authors should learn.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book requires at least some minimal background on Descartes' philosophy, but not more than a student would get in Philosophy 101. If one were to read this book without any background, the references to the works and topics with which Descartes dealt would be virtually impossible to follow. But, given that proviso, this is a great biography of Descartes. Desmond Clarke is an excellent prose writer, the book is organized exceptionally well, and Clarke does a superb job utilizing the many letters which Descartes and his correspondents wrote to each other.

The book opened up for me two critical points about Descartes that I was not aware of. First, Clarke insists many times that we must put ourselves into the historical time in which Descartes lived. It was a time when there was no distinction between what we call today "science" and areas like astrology, magic and alchemy. I knew that in my head for many years but the way I learned about Descartes in college isolated his project from that historical fact far too much. This book puts you into Descartes' environment in a way that makes that fact about "knowledge" much more real. One of Descartes' central goals was to isolate what was clear and distinct in science from the magic and superstition that passed for knowledge. (It is just very hard today to see magic and science as interchangeable but that was a fact of life in 1630.) This makes much more sense of some of Descartes' language which can strike modern readers as peculiar or dated. Though he got many of the facts wrong in his Meteors, Geometry, and Dioptrics, his method, which precedes those works as a preface and is so often taught in philosophy courses today as an isolated work, was an intellectual breakthrough in distinguishing what can be called "science.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a thorough biography, full of details of Descartes' humdrum but somewhat peripatetic life. It is not very helpful on the philosophy -- there are potted expositions -- and apart from a paragraph here and there that a reader new to Descartes could not make heads or tails of, Clarke has nothing to say about Descartes' famous work in geometry/algebra.

It is not Clarke's fault, but one comes away from this biography thinking that Descartes was not a nice person. He comes across as manipulative, argumentative, paranoid, and given to obfuscation when cornered. He ends up with few friends, and one can see why. The most interesting personal part of the story is his correspondence with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, who keeps asking him very insightful questions that Descartes continually dodges. It would make a good play.....
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Format: Hardcover
Philosophy professor Desmond Clarke presents Descartes: A Biography, an exhaustively in-depth accounting of the life of mathematician, theologian, and philosopher Rene Descartes. Obscure during his life, yet famous after his death, Descartes was a crucial contributor to the Scientific Revolution, and even tried to prove the existence of God, though his contemporaries considered those attempts questionable at best. He is immortalized today in the name of the Cartesian coordinate system, and the transformation of thought he helped usher has left repercussions up to the modern day. Descartes: A Biography examines both Descartes' personal life and his great discoveries and achievements, and is highly recommended for library and biography shelves.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was searching for a detailed history of Descartes, that is exactly what you get with this book. the details are so specific it almost becomes painful. the research and detail into Descartes life is very well documented within the text as a result of an endless review of Descartes letters.

The book is more detail as to this life and the authors interpretation of his thoughts than of Descartes writings.
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