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The Fatal Equation
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The "New York Times"-bestselling author of "The Professor and the Madman" and "Krakatoa" returns with the remarkable story of the growth of a great nation, and the eccentric and adventurous scientist who defined its essence for the world. 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. This married Englishman, a freethinking intellectual, while working at Cambridge University in 1937, fell in love with a visiting Chinese student, with whom he began a lifelong affair. He became fascinated with China, and 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 dangerous journeys took him across war-torn China to far-flung outposts, consolidating his deep admiration for the Chinese people. After the war, Needham began writing what became a seventeen-volume encyclopedia, Science and Civilisation in China.The seventeenth-century philosopher-statesman Francis Bacon famously declared that nothing had changed the world more profoundly than three great discoveries: printing, gunpowder and the compass. What he didn't know was that all three had already been conceived of and successfully employed by a single people, living on the far side of the globe, long before the West ever 'invented' them. And yet it was not until more than three hundred years later, in a young scientist's study in Cambridge, that one remarkable man set out to give these people the credit they rightly deserved. Joseph Needham was a keenly intelligent, charismatic young biochemist, working towards a glittering career at Cambridge, when he fell in love with a young Chinese student. His passion for his mistress quickly led to a fascination with her country's language and history, and he soon developed an astonishing reputation as a self-taught, albeit eccentric, scholar of Chinese culture. When, in 1943, the British government sent him on a diplomatic mission to help save China's universities from the occupying Japanese forces, he began the research that would occupy him for the rest of his life and which would one day lead him to write the greatest work on China ever created in the Western World.
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