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A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future (1991)

by Charles Van Doren

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,152511,990 (3.62)10
A one-voume reference to the history of ideas that is a compendium of everything that humankind has thought, invented, created, considered, and perfected from the beginning of civilization into the twenty-first century. Massive in its scope, and yet totally accessible, A HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE covers not only all the great theories and discoveries of the human race, but also explores the social conditions, political climates, and individual men and women of genius that brought ideas to fruition throughout history. "Crystal clear and concise...Explains how humankind got to know what it knows." Clifton Fadiman Selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club… (more)
Recently added byVicarOfCrom, private library, sdash1845, RevJustin, MadamMagic, wayneberninger, GREGandDANICA



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Showing 5 of 5
Excerpts from my original GR review (Sep 2012):
- Given the totality of human existence from which to draw, the author's one-volume effort crystallizes pretty well. And if you are interested in an overview of human thought through the ages, this is a good resource. An example: a 30 page chapter on the Greeks, serving up a slice of Thales, a wedge of Pythagoras, some grated Plato and a sip of Herodotus and Thucydides. Enough hors d'oeuvres to fire the appetite for more. Anyone who paid attention during high school and college will recognize most names and realms of thought presented here. Who am I now motivated to read more about, you ask? Mmmmm, Plato; Lucretius (his epic poem "On the Nature of Things" esp); Montaigne's essays; von Goethe. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Nov 11, 2018 |
Normally I would have written this off early in the book. 25 year old book written by a white American male who considers those three attributes to be the marks of culture. The world need only become more like white American males to perfect itself. However, the reason I have this book is that 5 years ago my son was assigned it as a textbook! And the further I got into the book, the more I read his opinions (that he considers to be knowledge) about the then present on into the future, the more horrified I became.
His comment on one major challenge the world was facing when he wrote was "It is not pleasant to have to mention such a possibility. Let us therefore assume it will not happen."
A lot of his 'facts' and 'knowledge' are dangerous because he can't tell the difference between his own opinions and reality.
As far as his ideas about the future go, they are the proof that this book is way over its use-by-date.
I can't believe this is still in print. ( )
1 vote MarthaJeanne | Jun 14, 2015 |
While "history" books cannot elide the grim determinism of the past upon the present, few historians are as express about the links between our present and the present, and how our present is already fixing the future.

The author was an editor of Encyclopaedia Brtiannica for 20 years.
The book is divided into 15 chapters. That division is explained in the outline of the book presented in the "Author to Reader" section.

1. Wisdom of Ancients
2. Greek Explosion
3. What Romans Knew
4. Light in the Dark Ages
5. Middle Ages: Great Experiment.
6. Reborn in the Renaissance.
7. Europe Reaches Out.
8. Invention of Scientific Method.
9. Age of Revolutions
10. Nineteeth Century: Prelude
11. World in 1914
12. Twentieth C.: Triumph of Democracy
13. Twentieth C: Science and Technology
14. Twentieth C: Art and Media
15. Next Hundred Years
1 vote keylawk | Aug 24, 2013 |
Visionary text combining the literature and history of all ages to propose what we should do in the future. ( )
1 vote drj | Jul 11, 2008 |
While slightly fusty by modern 'literary non-fiction' standards, this book has been a beginner history/philosophy student stand-by for a long time. Not the type of book you read from cover to cover in one sitting, but worth having on the shelf for reference value ( )
1 vote ForrestFamily | Mar 29, 2006 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Van Dorenprimary authorall editionscalculated
LeFaiver, KayleyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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BY THE TIME written history began, some fifty centuries ago, mankind had learned much more than our primitive ancestors knew.
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