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Showing 1-10 of 130 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 219 reviews
on March 2, 2015
Simon Winchester does a terrific job of bringing his subject to life. This is a fascinating biography of a Brit who became intrigued with Chinese culture. I couldn't put it down (even though I usually prefer literary novels).

You'll learn about innumerable things that Chinese people invented centuries before the West.

But perhaps the most unforgettable thing I learned from the book is how naive very intelligent people can be, and how easily fooled. A humbling insight into human nature.
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on April 17, 2017
Such stunning revelations about scientific discoveries in China a thousand years agoand more, long before similar inventions were made in the "West". There is a long list of foreign eccentric characters who devote their lives to discovering these innovations and to keeping this knowledge alive all the while dealing with the hordes of humanity and the futility of dealing with the bureaucracy that has marked China forever. Their love and understanding of China and it's people and the many anecdotal stories throughout the book will keep you smiling and entertained throughout this heavy going book. But keep plodding through, it is well worth it.
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on December 17, 2016
Fascinating and fantastic story about an Oxford don, Joseph Needham, who met and fell in love with a Chinese woman in England during the 1920's. Her love for him inspired him to not only learn to speak, read, and write the Chinese language, but also at Churchill's request go there during the 1940's to help the Chinese universities save their collections and archives from the advancing Japanese.

Needham went on to write a massive opus which is sill being written today, an encyclopedia of Chinese history, language, and culture published by Cambridge University.
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on March 24, 2013
I enjoyed reading on subjects (the history of China, and of China and the West) of which I had been largely ignorant, and on another (Joseph Needham and his magnum opus) of which I had been totally ignorant. If I were to get too lengthy here, I'd likely begin to confute my thoughts on the book (mostly positive) with my thoughts on Joseph Needham (less positive), so I'll stick to the book.

Although the book was lively, informative, and descriptive in the main--a good way for a relative novice to get a start on knowing China better--I thought the Epilogue was weak, somewhat self-contradictory, and (with respect to a modern renaissance of China's peerless ancient culture anytime soon) Pollyannish. Another significant criticism I have is a common one for books dealing in any way with geography: insufficient maps, either in quantity or quality. Although there were possibly [barely] enough maps (I dog-eared the map pages to minimize the time it took to refer back to them) there could have been more, even in this paperback edition. Those maps that were provided lacked the detail I'd have liked, and (a more serious no-no) failed to include some of the place names refered to in the text.

These short-comings notwithstanding, I'd recommend this book highly to anyone having only a modest understanding of China and its history as a good place to jump in. Even if you already know a lot of this stuff, you'd probably learn something new. It was fun, for instance, to review Needham's list of Chinese "firsts" that was included at the end of the book, although it seemed to me a little forced--and somewhat chauvinistic. Who knows? It could be perfectly accurate.
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on December 31, 2012
Winchester really is a magnificent writer. Although I am a bigger fan of some of his other works, this certainly fits well into the rest of his life's opus. Somehow he manages to cover bits of science, technology, philosophy, history, (his love) geology, archaeology, culture, politics and even uses his flair for travel writing with great ethos and pathos to tell an interesting story.

Aside from the breadth of topics he covers while telling the story of one man's life's work, he writes about and discusses topics which should be part of everyone's personal cultural knowledge. As a small example, he makes mention of one of the real life archaeologists who served as a model for Indiana Jones - though sadly he only makes the direct connection in a footnote which many may not likely read.

Though I had originally picked up the book out of general curiosity (not to diminish the fact that I'm on a quest to read every word Winchester has written), I find that it also neatly fits into providing some spectacular background on the concept of "Big History" (see Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (California World History Library)) as it relates to China's place in the world. In particular "Needham's question" (briefly: Why, given China's illustrious past, did modern science not develop there after the 1500's?) turned around becomes a interesting illustration on the course of human history and the rises and falls of cultures and societies since the holocene.

For those who may miss the significance, I was particularly impressed with the overall literary power imbued to the book by the use of the bookended contrasts of Needham's Chongqing at the opening of the work and modern day Chongqing at the close. This is one of the few times that the mechanics behind how Winchester, the master of telling often non-linear stories, has been patently obvious to me. I hope one day to unravel all of his other secrets. I can only imagine that in his heavy research of his topics, he somehow internally sees the ultimately magical ways in which he will present the information.

I will note that, in contrast to some of his past works, this one had some better physical maps and photos to go along with the text, although I was highly disappointed in their unusuable presentation in the e-book version of the book. (Higher dpi versions would have gone a long way, particularly with the ability to zoom in on them in most e-readers.) For those unfortunate enough to have the e-book copy, I commend picking up a physical copy of the book for better interpretations of the photos and maps included.
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on July 1, 2008
If you look back at the titles of some of Mr. Winchester's older books, it's clear that Joseph Needham, the subject of this book, isn't the only man who loves China. Clearly, Winchester himself has a fascination for Asia and China. Admittedly, I have not read these earlier titles, having come to Mr. Winchester--like many I suspect--through the pages of The Professor and the Madman. However, I have kept up with his work since then and it's nice to see him able to bring his passion for China to the fore again.

Today, Joseph Needham is most remembered for the decades he spent putting together Science and Civilization in China, a series of books documenting the many advances made in China that pre-date the better known inventions/inventors in the West. What this ultimately means, as it was the West that took widest advantage of scientific and technical successes, is open to debate; however, it is fascinating to think about how far ahead the Chinese must have been at various points in their history, even into antiquity. A less inward-looking culture might have changed the entire face of world history.

Mr. Winchester gives us tidbits of these scientific facts to contemplate, but this book is really about Needham himself: a Cambridge scholar who was undoubtedly brilliant but in many ways controversial. He was very sexually liberated for his time, being married to a devoted woman who tolerated his many affairs, including a long-term affair with a Chinese woman, Lu Gwei-djen, who was likely the inspiration for much of his passion about China. He was sympathetic to communism and maintained a connection to communist China even when such a relationship was frowned upon. He dabbled in realpolitik which often caused him grief. But in the end, it is his work that is best remembered.

He started his career as a very successful scientist who parlayed his success and love of China into a diplomatic assignment to the country at the height of World War II. In the midst of his diplomatic duties--being a materials conduit for Chinese scientists--he made a number of trips across China, collecting information and artifacts which he periodically shipped home. When he returned, instead of resuming his scientific work, he devoted the rest of his life to history, assessing the materials he'd brought back and writing his magnum opus.

Mr. Winchester has an amazing facility for telling the stories of eccentrics and science. Here, he shows his skills yet again. This is a wonderfully readable book about a comparatively unknown scholar who deserves better. Mr. Winchester has done Needham--and the reading public--a real service.
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on May 22, 2017
Wonderful story; beautifully written. Winchester is my new favorite author, and this book hooked me.
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on May 27, 2013
Just as he did in his earlier work, The Professor and the Madman, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, Simon Winchester has written an eminently readable and tremendously fascinating work with The Man Who Loved China. Still, despite the fact that the work kept my interest the whole time, I do think that the book has some flaws.

Though the insights into Chinese history are thoroughly interesting, I find the way that Winchester deals with Joseph Needham`s own personality to be rather cursory. I don`t think that he questions either Needham`s pro-communist leanings quite enough nor does he really ever question the moral or ethical nature of Needham`s personal life. Simply put, I think that The Man Who Loved China paints far to rosy a picture of Mr. Needham.

All of that aside though, the work is definitely interesting and it does make the reader want to delve deeper into the voluminous history of Science and Civilization in China.
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on October 19, 2015
Big Simon Winchester fan. This book took me longer to get into than any of his others but very rewarding read though still haven't gotten to China. My fav of his is Crack at the Edge of the World.
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on August 20, 2017
Love this author on this and other books.
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