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In this hugely ambitious and stimulating book, Peter Watson describes the history of ideas, from deep antiquity to the present day, leading to a new way of understanding our world and ourselves.
The narrative begins nearly two million years ago with the invention of hand-axes and explores how some of our most cherished notions might have originated before humans had language. Then, in a broad sweep, the book moves forward to consider not the battles and treaties of kings and prime ministers, emperors and generals, but the most important ideas we have evolved, by which we live and which separate us from other animals. Watson explores the first languages and the first words, the birth of the gods, the origins of art, the profound intellectual consequences of money. He describes the invention of writing, early ideas about law, why sacrifice and the soul have proved so enduring in religion. He explains how ideas about time evolved, how numbers were conceived, how science, medicine, sociology, economics, and capitalism came into being. He shows how the discovery of the New World changed forever the way that we think, and why Chinese creativity faded after the Middle Ages.
In the course of this commanding narrative, Watson reveals the linkages down the ages in the ideas of many apparently disparate philosophers, astronomers, religious leaders, biologists, inventors, poets, jurists, and scores of others. Aristotle jostles with Aquinas, Ptolemy with Photius, Kalidasa with Zhu Xi, Beethoven with Strindberg, Jefferson with Freud. Ideas is a seminal work.
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Peter Watson has been a senioreditor at the London Sunday Times, a New York correspondentof the London Times, a columnist for theLondon Observer, and a contributor to the New YorkTimes. He has published three exposés on the world ofart and antiquities, and is the author of several booksof cultural and intellectual history. From 1997 to 2007he was a research associate at the McDonald Institutefor Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.He lives in London.From Publishers Weekly:
Watson's (The Modern Mind) hefty tome distills history's greatest ideas and inventions into an impressive discourse on history's driving forces, enlivened by anecdotes and made approachable by Watson's casual, nearly conspiratorial, tone. Watson presents a vast amount of information, but his greatest strength lies in his ability to make an immensely varied body of material coherent and digestible. The author asks the reader to approach his history "as an alternative to more conventional history-as history with the kings and emperors and dynasties and generals left out," and assumes "readers will know the bare bones of historical chronology." Central to Watson's approach is his belief that the scientific experiment, as it took root in medieval Europe, forever changed history's intellectual landscape. (Watson goes as far as labeling the scientific method "the purest form of democracy there is.") Whereas the non-Western world once dominated intellectual spheres (The author notes that the Hindu mathematician Aryabhata calculated the value of pi and the solar year's length, determined that the earth revolved around the sun and discovered the cause of eclipses nearly a thousand years before Copernicus), Watson points to a grand-and specific-shift that changed that dynamic: "The eleventh and twelfth centuries were a hinge period, when the great European acceleration began. From then on, the history of new ideas happened mainly in what we now call the West." This analysis is indicative of Watson's scholarship, and the result is a rich tapestry of intellectual and cultural life through the ages.
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