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The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story…
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The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist… (2008)

by Simon Winchester

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,309619,062 (3.8)1 / 108
  1. 30
    The shorter Science and civilisation in China: An abridgement of Joseph Needham's original text by Colin Alistair Ronan (wildbill)
    wildbill: An abridgment of Needham's great tome.
  2. 20
    The Places In Between by Rory Stewart (rakerman)
    rakerman: In many ways Rory Stewart is the modern equivalent of Joseph Needham - an informed observer of and participant in another country's history (Afghanistan, in Stewart's case)
  3. 00
    Ring of Fire by Lawrence Blair (rakerman)
    rakerman: because the Blairs were also mad English adventurers exploring a new land
  4. 00
    Time Exposure: The Autobiography of William Henry Jackson by William Henry Jackson (rakerman)
    rakerman: because William Henry Jackson did extraordinary things including documenting a new country, albeit as an American photographer, rather than a British scientist and scholar
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Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
This book got me from the very start with his constant question of Why no developement. I was very impressed by the comment of former Secretary of State Haye (Haye?) about 1920 to the effect that one could tell what policy to adopt for the next five hundred years by watching China, despite the at that time apparent lack of effect China had on the world. What I love about the book overall is Needham's single-minded devotion to learning in detail about the language, although there is more than one, culture(s) and history of the land from which his mistress came, and then that he, she, and his wife shared that devotion. And that, most importantly of all, he set the historical record straight on the most ancient accomplishments of Chinese civilization, things that even Chinese historians had not had or taken the time to dust off and publish. Then he fought tooth and nail against racism and classism of all forms (perhaps thanks to that stay with a working class family when he was a young boy). What a tenacious and driven person, to whom we all owe a debt of history and following one's own conscience for the working classes, even if he was a bit overly naive at times. ( )
1 vote ShiraDest | Mar 6, 2019 |
I thoroughly enjoyed the author's narration of this audiobook and now cannot wait to read the book when it returns to the Library at school. This is an animated, carefully researched account of the long life of a delightfully quirky scholar and formidable contributor to the history of science. It reads like a brilliant travelogue of China during and after WWII, as Joseph Needham, the always inquisitive man who loved China, makes his way by interesting conveyance ("Let's see if we can borrow those salt barges and make our way there after our unreliable overland conveyance breaks down." ( )
1 vote msmilton | Jul 18, 2018 |
I thoroughly enjoyed the author's narration of this audiobook and now cannot wait to read the book when it returns to the Library at school. This is an animated, carefully researched account of the long life of a delightfully quirky scholar and formidable contributor to the history of science. It reads like a brilliant travelogue of China during and after WWII, as Joseph Needham, the always inquisitive man who loved China, makes his way by interesting conveyance ("Let's see if we can borrow those salt barges and make our way there after our unreliable overland conveyance breaks down." ( )
  msmilton | Jul 18, 2018 |
Interesting. ( )
  SMBrick | Feb 25, 2018 |
Cave 17/Dunhuang was interesting, as were the Cambridge parts ( )
  mtdewrock | Dec 30, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
Simon Winchester tells the story, or part of it, in “The Man Who Loved China,” and like the other books of his I have read, it is amusing but unsatisfying. “The Professor and the Madman,” which first brought him to attention, was probably his best-crafted work. Since then he has tackled a number of curious and interesting topics, and instead of doing a good job of them has turned out incomplete bestsellers, full of chatty excursions and as much irrelevant salaciousness as he can fit into footnotes, but never quite telling the story that the subtitles pretend is inside the covers.
 
What happened after the rise of modern natural science c.1600 could not be like what came before, with the result that ‘both capitalist and socialist societies today are in qualitatively different situations from all preceding societies.’ There was no way back to the past, but there was a way forward. Needham never abandoned his belief in potential progress. Science and technology did not create the good society, but the tools that could bring it about, not least in China. ‘This is perhaps the promised peace on earth, and whoever puts first the real needs of real people will inherit it.’ All the same, Needham will not be remembered for his passionate longing for a better human future, or even for his biology-inspired organic Marxism, but for his extraordinary achievement in exploring and re-creating a past. Yet he remains a neglected thinker, remembered only in textbooks of developmental biology, and still awaits a biographer with a fuller understanding than Winchester’s of a remarkable man and the times and contexts that made him.
 
The name Joseph Needham is not well-known. Simon Winchester, who has written a succinct and enjoyable account of his life, first came across him while writing a travel book, The River at the Centre of the World (1996). He wanted to find out about the boats that plied the Yangtze, and Needham, he learnt, was one of two authorities on the matter. A notably eccentric Cambridge scholar, Needham was actually a biochemist by training, but his outstanding achievement was the 24-volumeScience and Civilisation in China, the first volume of which was published in 1954.
 
Winchester, who worked as a journalist in Asia, is no stranger to what he once called "this delicious strangeness of China." He knows the territory well, which helps explain why his chronicle of Needham's four years there shines so vividly. When the scene moves back to Cambridge and to the details of organizing and publishing Needham's scientific book, Winchester's writing loses some of its luster.
 
Winchester has spent a good deal of his career as a journalist in East Asia, so it’s not surprising that the liveliest stretch of his narrative presents Needham’s first encounter with the country whose language he had mastered from afar. Early in 1943, Needham was sent to China by the British Foreign Office, charged with organizing aid for Chinese scholars and scientists in flight from the Japanese invasion, who were attempting to re-establish their universities in the inner provinces. His travels over the next few years took him from the jungles of the Burmese border to the Gobi Desert and the seacoast of Fujian, on 11 expeditions that covered roughly 30,000 miles. He lived a life of grand adventure in wartime China, and Winchester presents its dangers and pleasures with panache. Whether Needham is donkey racing near ancient Buddhist caves or packed into a train full of refugees speeding across a soon-to-be-bombed railway bridge, the exhilaration of this part of his life is immediately engaging. And so are the colorful characters who come his way.
 
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(Prologue) The battered old Douglas C-47 Skytrain of the China National Aviation Corporation, its chocolate brown fuselage battle-scarred with bullet holes and dents, shuddered its way down through the rain clouds, the pilot following the slow bends of the Yangzi River until he had the sand-spit landing field in sight in front of him and the cliffs of China's capital city to his left.
Joseph Needham, a man highly regarded for his ability as a builder of bridges - between science and faith, privilege and poverty, the Old World and the New, and, most famously of all, between China and the West - was obliged to make an early start in the craft, as the only child of a mother and father who were ineluctably shacked in a spectacularly disastrous Edwardian marriage.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060884592, Hardcover)

In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman ("Elegant and scrupulous"—New York Times Book Review) and Krakatoa ("A mesmerizing page-turner"—Time) brings to life 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.

No cloistered don, this tall, married Englishman was a freethinking intellectual, who practiced nudism and was devoted to a quirky brand of folk dancing. In 1937, while working as a biochemist at Cambridge University, he instantly fell in love with a visiting Chinese student, with whom he began a lifelong affair.

He soon became fascinated with China, and his mistress swiftly persuaded the ever-enthusiastic Needham to travel to her home country, where he 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 thrilling and dangerous journeys, vividly recreated by Winchester, took him across war-torn China to far-flung outposts, consolidating his deep admiration for the Chinese people.

After the war, Needham was determined to tell the world what he had discovered, and began writing his majestic Science and Civilisation in China, describing the country's long and astonishing history of invention and technology. By the time he died, he had produced, essentially single-handedly, seventeen immense volumes, marking him as the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.

Both epic and intimate, The Man Who Loved China tells the sweeping story of China through Needham's remarkable life. Here is an unforgettable tale of what makes men, nations, and, indeed, mankind itself great—related by one of the world's inimitable storytellers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:08 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 8 descriptions

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