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The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century…

The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern… (2016)

by A. C. Grayling

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Professor Grayling argues that the development of the modern mind was a byproduct of the times that they were part of. The questioning of authority and breakdown of what people knew and accepted for centuries was brought into light by a number of events that had no religious explanations.

For instance, a supernova came into existence and was seen by many astronomers. This called into question the idea that the sky was immutable and unchanging. So if the Bible was wrong about that, what else could it be wrong about? Not to mention the numerous wars and quarrels over land that erupted during this time. Since a lot of disasters happened, people began to doubt the Divine Right of Kings.

Although all of this was happening, many people still believed in magic and superstitious ridiculousness. Take Isaac Newton as an example. Yes, he invented Calculus and showed an explanation for many things that happened with celestial objects but he wrote a lot more about alchemy, biblical interpretation, and magic than he did on physics and math.

All these ideas are well and good, but without people to share them, they may as well not be there. That is where a number of people come in that acted as "human internet servers." Sending correspondence all across the continent of Europe, people such as Marin Mersenne helped to spread these new ideas.

Although it was interesting and very enlightening, I guess I wasn't really expecting this book to be mainly focused on history. Sure it talks about the things that people founded and did at the time, and the scaffolding of modern science and culture that was established, but these all seem to be asides to the other content of the book. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
Grayling’s positive argument here is that events in the 17th century combined to make it a turning point in human history. Before the century began, the absolute right of monarchs, the fervent and often unquestioning belief in religious authority (whether Catholic or Protestant), the ongoing influence of the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic worldview, and the pernicious longing for magical solutions and routes to knowledge (whether through alchemy or the Cabala), were pervasive. By century’s end, the mainstream view was utterly reformed, though even today vestiges of magical thinking, religious fundamentalism and anti-science persist. Grayling wants to canvas the main areas of the 17th century’s development. That is a huge task and perhaps beyond the reach of a single popular history of ideas and events. But still a worthy goal.

Depending on your predispositions, you may find some sections of this book more or less interesting. I did not find much of interest in the detailing of the nearly endless wars in Europe. And the following section on the pervasive influence of charlatanism and so-called magical thinking was also dull to me. However, the book picked up considerably when Grayling traced the rise of science, from Francis Bacon to Galileo. Fascinating. Unfortunately the next section on politics was less interesting to me, though I can well imagine that a discussion on Hobbes and Locke might be the central interest for other readers.

Because of its broad approach, I don’t think this book especially successful. This, despite the fact that I agree with Grayling’s overall argument and admire his presentation of especially the philosophers and scientists with whom I assume he is most familiar. (It’s always interesting to read him on Descartes.) So, dip into this book and read the section(s) you might be most interested in. And then turn to more in-depth accounts of those, including Grayling’s own. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Feb 26, 2017 |
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"Explores the eventful intertwining of outward event and inner intellectual life to tell, in all its richness and depth, the story of the 17th century in Europe. It was a time of creativity unparalleled in history before or since, from science to the arts, from philosophy to politics ... Grayling points to three primary factors [behind this epochal shift]: the rise of vernacular (popular) languages in philosophy, theology, science, and literature; the rise of the individual as a general and not merely an aristocratic type; and the invention and application of instruments and measurement in the study of the natural world"--Amazon.com.… (more)

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