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The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself (1983)

by Daniel Boorstin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Boorstin's Histories (1)

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4,361422,627 (4.07)45
Tells the ongoing story of the progressive discovery by man of the nature of the observable world and universe.

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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Information packed. The discoveries of new lands, and science.
  nx74defiant | Jan 3, 2024 |
I recall spending some time with this book, but details now, years later, are vague. ( )
  mykl-s | Jun 18, 2023 |
The Discoverers (Vintage) by Daniel J. Boorstin (1985)
  sharibillops | May 20, 2022 |
The Discoverers is a genial, readable, welcome overview of some of the major scientific discoveries in human history, linked together by theme, and a good candidate for "best book that should have been one of my textbooks in high school but inexplicably wasn't". Boorstin is apparently a generally strong historian, having written several other acclaimed works like the 1974 History Pulitzer winner The Americans, and if that one was anything like this it should be a great read. The Discoverers takes a strongly narrative approach to its scope of inquiry, which endeared it to me. It's divided into four main sections: Time, which discusses the inventions of the calendar and clock; The Earth and Seas, which recounts the refinement of mapping, geography, and exploration; Nature, which covers astronomy, medicine, and physics; and Society, which wraps up the modern era as an age where people have studied themselves and their works in unprecedented detail. These general topics are related to the reader through the stories of the explorers and scientists who uncovered new lands and new knowledge, and Boorstin's smooth writing style and talent for both panoramic surveys and detailed explanations should make the content stick in the mind a bit better than the somewhat disjointed style of most textbooks.

I like the way that he treats the "story of progress" as the stories of people, both because he's a great humanist, sensitive to the struggles of people to shrug off constraints of ignorance and see a little farther, and also because that way he's better able to impart just how difficult those struggles were. The overall lesson is that progress is very difficult: people's prejudices - be they the spontaneous generation, geocentrism, the threefold world map - are almost always seemingly reasonable and justifiable by simple inspection, and it takes a lot of deep thinking and hard work to advance the frontiers of knowledge. Boorstin is able to incite both sympathy for the inhabitants of the old worlds and admiration for the pioneers of the new worlds, while returning again and again to a sentiment we would all do well to remember: "I have observed that the world has suffered far less from ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, a heretic, or an unbeliever." Well said. Here's hoping that more people read this book, both to celebrate the great scientists and adventurers of the past, and keep in mind that spirit of discovery. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Boorstin opens up history from a Discoverers point of view in a way that James Burke in his "connections" never seems to pull off. While the latter's "connections" are tenuous at best, Boorstine's are solid: they lead to something tangible.

I loved it. ( )
  wickenden | Mar 8, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Daniel Boorstinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Aulicino, RobertCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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And take upon 's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies.

Shakespeare, King Lear, v. 3
(Title page)
Nay, the same Soloman the king, although he excelled in the glory of treasure and magnificent buildings, of shipping and navigation, of service and attendance, of fame and renown, and the like, yet he maketh no claim to any of these glories, but only to the glory of inquisition of truth; for so he saith expressly, "The glory of God is to conceal a thing, but the glory of the king is to find it out"; as if, according to the innocent play of children, the Divine Majesty took delight to hide his works, to the end to have them found out; and as if kings could not obtain a greater honor than to be God's play-fellows in that game.

Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning (1605)
Time is the greatest innovator.

Francis Bacon, "Of Innovations" (1625)

(Book One)
God did not create the planets and stars with the intention that they should dominate man, but that they, like other creatures, should obey and serve him. Paracelsus, Concerning the Nature of Things (c. 1541) (Book One, Part One)
For Ruth
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From far-northwest Greenland to the southernmost tip of Patagonia, people hail the new moon—a time for singing and praying, eating and drinking.
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Tells the ongoing story of the progressive discovery by man of the nature of the observable world and universe.

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