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Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud

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Peter Watson's hugely ambitious and stimulating history of ideas from deep antiquity to the present day—from the invention of writing, mathematics, science, and philosophy to the rise of such concepts as the law, sacrifice, democracy, and the soul—offers an illuminated path to a greater understanding of our world and ourselves. Peter Watson's hugely ambitious and stimulating history of ideas from deep antiquity to the present day—from the invention of writing, mathematics, science, and philosophy to the rise of such concepts as the law, sacrifice, democracy, and the soul—offers an illuminated path to a greater understanding of our world and ourselves.


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Peter Watson's hugely ambitious and stimulating history of ideas from deep antiquity to the present day—from the invention of writing, mathematics, science, and philosophy to the rise of such concepts as the law, sacrifice, democracy, and the soul—offers an illuminated path to a greater understanding of our world and ourselves. Peter Watson's hugely ambitious and stimulating history of ideas from deep antiquity to the present day—from the invention of writing, mathematics, science, and philosophy to the rise of such concepts as the law, sacrifice, democracy, and the soul—offers an illuminated path to a greater understanding of our world and ourselves.

30 review for Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud

  1. 4 out of 5

    Crawford

    I have finally finished this tome. Over the 18-months it took to read I have from time to time added précis to this review, but now I have finished I have removed them. This book is a thousand pages of dense reading and nothing best summarizes its magnificence than the quotations from the fronts-piece: There are no whole truths;. All truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as Whole truths that plays the devil. (Alfred North Whitehead, Dialogues. 1953.) While it may be hard to live with gene I have finally finished this tome. Over the 18-months it took to read I have from time to time added précis to this review, but now I have finished I have removed them. This book is a thousand pages of dense reading and nothing best summarizes its magnificence than the quotations from the fronts-piece: There are no whole truths;. All truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as Whole truths that plays the devil. (Alfred North Whitehead, Dialogues. 1953.) While it may be hard to live with generalizations, it is inconceivable to live without them. (Peter Gay, Schnitzler's Century. 2002.) I did find the opening chapters, “Lucy to Gilgamesh” hard to follow but once Isaiah was underway I was underway. Too many highlights followed; it would take another book to elucidate them. Look at the cover of my edition: IDEAS, a subtitle “A history from fire to Freud” and a picture of an acorn; this says it all. CJHD 15-Jul-12

  2. 5 out of 5

    Book

    Ideas by Peter Watson Wow! It doesn't get more ambitious than this. This is a book about the history of ideas. How can anyone tackle such an ambitious topic in one book? Well, somehow someway Peter Watson does exactly that. The author jumps from one interesting topic to another with mastery: language, science, weaponry, religion, society, economics, inventions, music... It was an investment in knowledge. An investment that pays off at the end. I can't remember the last time, I've learned so much Ideas by Peter Watson Wow! It doesn't get more ambitious than this. This is a book about the history of ideas. How can anyone tackle such an ambitious topic in one book? Well, somehow someway Peter Watson does exactly that. The author jumps from one interesting topic to another with mastery: language, science, weaponry, religion, society, economics, inventions, music... It was an investment in knowledge. An investment that pays off at the end. I can't remember the last time, I've learned so much from one book. It's a quest for knowledge and journey through time and inventions...I'm so thankful for authors like Mr. Watson who's incredible dedication and scholarly work make it so worth my time. Positives: 1. So much knowledge covered in one book. Astonishing! 2. Interesting tidbits throughout and I enjoyed how the author ties things together. 3. Evolution of civilization has never been taught better, great job. 4. It's encyclopedic work condensed in a book. 5. Elegantly and clearly written. 6. A wide and I mean wide range of topics. 7. Uncanny ability to introduce a new topic just when you have exhausted the existing one. 8. Good overall flow. Negatives: 1. It's an investment of time. 2. It's expected that some topics will be covered better than others. 3. I didn't quite understand Freud's impact. 4. The links didn't work! How disappointing...Amazon please make sure the links work before releasing the Kindle versions...argh. In summary, this is a must book for all those curious about the greatest ideas of humankind. I commend the author for providing this gift of knowledge for all to enjoy. Thank you.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sundus

    This book, beginning with pre history and ending at modernism, is nothing less than the summation of entire intellectual accomplishment of mankind. Worth reading !!!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Vandita

    What a tome ! Weight wise, content wise, scope wise and depth wise. I don't remember when was last that I read a book which had so much to offer.. each page crammed with insights, facts, analysis that reading 3 pages in one go satiates the mind. The book of 'ideas' defines the 'ideas' since the birth of mankind and civilisation, as broadly as one can: as the sub title says ' a history of thought and invention, from fire to freud'. The sheer expanse of ideas explored and the depth of this explora What a tome ! Weight wise, content wise, scope wise and depth wise. I don't remember when was last that I read a book which had so much to offer.. each page crammed with insights, facts, analysis that reading 3 pages in one go satiates the mind. The book of 'ideas' defines the 'ideas' since the birth of mankind and civilisation, as broadly as one can: as the sub title says ' a history of thought and invention, from fire to freud'. The sheer expanse of ideas explored and the depth of this exploration leaves one spellbound and overwhelmed at the genius of Peter Watson. Can one man really grapple with evolution of imagination - right from the 'before language' era to 'the romance of soul' : critiques of religions (classical to oriental to occidental), science, liberal arts, to the the 'great hinge of history' (idea of 'Europe'), philosophy (from attack on authority, the idea of 'secular' and the 'birth of modern individualism' and the 'advent of doubt') to the ideas of 'parallel truths' (the 'modern incoherence' : uses and abuses of nationalism and imperialism, the American mind, the end of soul and modernism and discovery of the Unconscious)? Phew. The only way to really take this 'analytical wikipedia on steroids' is to do so in small doses, enjoying little morsels and over a long period of time, returning to it a thousand time lovingly as if visiting an old friend and mentor and being left enriched with every visit. I can not recommend it highly enough. [A note: this is NOT light reading as it is not in the genre of 'pop philosophy or pop history/ pop science'. This is a serious piece of work and a culmination of a lifetime of knowledge of a renaissance man. So pick it up only if that is something you respect, like and can handle!].

  5. 5 out of 5

    hami

    1118 pages of a lot of things. My first suggestion would be to change the title of the book to "Ideas: A history from European perspective" since the book is very Eurocentered and one-sided. After part 3 there is barely any mention of great culture, education and inventions of Islamic, Asian and African worlds. The majority of book is focused on the redundant idea of Europe and great western military and intellectual achievements. Although doing a very good job of categorizing the periods of his 1118 pages of a lot of things. My first suggestion would be to change the title of the book to "Ideas: A history from European perspective" since the book is very Eurocentered and one-sided. After part 3 there is barely any mention of great culture, education and inventions of Islamic, Asian and African worlds. The majority of book is focused on the redundant idea of Europe and great western military and intellectual achievements. Although doing a very good job of categorizing the periods of history, the book, after all, failed to focus properly on colonialism and results of destructions caused by expansionists ideas of imperial powers and use of Christianity in that process.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    A good survey with some of the latest data and analysis. Not a bad book all-in-all but not enlightening...I've read most of this in other books over the years...but this is a survey piece so that should be expected. I was never, genuinely, engaged by the book but don't have anything bad to say about it. I believe this is a book for younger readers (20 somethings) that have not spent a lifetime reading. For them there would be lots of interesting directions to pursue in the future but for those, A good survey with some of the latest data and analysis. Not a bad book all-in-all but not enlightening...I've read most of this in other books over the years...but this is a survey piece so that should be expected. I was never, genuinely, engaged by the book but don't have anything bad to say about it. I believe this is a book for younger readers (20 somethings) that have not spent a lifetime reading. For them there would be lots of interesting directions to pursue in the future but for those, such as I, that have read widely there is nothing new here. Therefore, what I would like to offer is a recommendation with a proviso. A good book as a refresher and a great book as an introduction to the world/history of ideas. There is a fair amount to quibble with in the book but, in the end, quibbling is not criticizing. Good book...but not great.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bchamp

    If someone asked me what the greatest book I've ever read was, I'd tell them I didn't want to answer that question, but if pressed, this would be it. Boorstin's The Discoverers got me interested in what they call 'Intellectual History', but this book cemented it as my number one sub-field of history. I will now read any book I find described as such, and I have Peter Watson to blame.thank. Let me put it another way: an ex-girlfriend got this book for me as a christmas gift. It was probably the be If someone asked me what the greatest book I've ever read was, I'd tell them I didn't want to answer that question, but if pressed, this would be it. Boorstin's The Discoverers got me interested in what they call 'Intellectual History', but this book cemented it as my number one sub-field of history. I will now read any book I find described as such, and I have Peter Watson to blame.thank. Let me put it another way: an ex-girlfriend got this book for me as a christmas gift. It was probably the best thing I got out of that relationship, and perhaps the greatest gift anyone has ever gotten me. Seriously, this book is nearly my personal bible. I may have a copy buried with me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Todd N

    Second review (finished 1/27/2013) I read this book off and on during 2012 and the first part of 2013. It was even better the second time I read it. March-ish I took a few days off from life and checked into a spa in Sonoma, and this was the only book I brought to read in between massages and soaking in spring water. Come to think of it, this is probably the one book I would bring to a desert island if I had to limit it to one book. Then October-ish I picked it up again and started re-reading the s Second review (finished 1/27/2013) I read this book off and on during 2012 and the first part of 2013. It was even better the second time I read it. March-ish I took a few days off from life and checked into a spa in Sonoma, and this was the only book I brought to read in between massages and soaking in spring water. Come to think of it, this is probably the one book I would bring to a desert island if I had to limit it to one book. Then October-ish I picked it up again and started re-reading the second half. (I also downloaded it on the Kindle so that I would be more likely to have it with me.) The first half is very interesting, but for some reason I found the second half -- starting roughly with the rhetorical question Why is Europe so awesome? -- to be completely riveting this time around. The book is pretty unabashed about the supremacy of Europe, though there are ~1000 pages and thus plenty of ink spent on other cultures. He lays out a good case that the seeds for the Renaissance go back as far as 1200, and that the "dark" ages were not as dark as we learned in school. The book seemed less objective to me on second reading because it's pretty clear that he can't wait for Europe to shake off the mental bonds of religion and get on with the Enlightenment and so forth. However, he is careful to point out (and this was news to me) that the Enlightenment was not seen in a positive light for a very long time. The general feeling seemed to be that it led directly to things like the Reign of Terror in France. The other thing that Mr. Watson has no patience for is periods when people are "looking inward" like the Romantic Era and maybe even the Reformation. Held up as the classic example of this is Freud, who gets pummeled by Mr. Watson for quite a few pages. The big problem with turning inward, according to Mr. Watson, is that it leaves nothing to build on for later generations. This is in contrast with science, which is verifiable, cumulative, and undeniable. I was surprised when he pointed out that Germany completely dominated science and the arts from about 1850 until the rise of Hitler. I hadn't noticed that. Fortunately, he has a book on just that topic that I'm going to check out. He also has a book of equal length covering just the 20th Century that I should probably re-read. But first I have to make it through the piles of books that stacked up on my Kindle and my night stand while I was reading this one. --- First review (finished 8/7/2007) I'm taking my time through this book because i want to savor it -- also because it's too heavy for me to lift for long periods.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Yehaskel

    Amazing.

  10. 4 out of 5

    НОХЧО

    I started to read this book almost seven years ago. Only reason finished this book is my obsession about finishing books, anyway the book not was so bad to read within 7 years. Peter Watson is good collector. He collect knowledge which he thinks matter for ideas mind. He did not comment or made interference about ideas. Just facts. Some quotes; The main concern among German sociologists was ‘modernity’, how modern life differed in a social, political, psychological, economic and moral sense from wh I started to read this book almost seven years ago. Only reason finished this book is my obsession about finishing books, anyway the book not was so bad to read within 7 years. Peter Watson is good collector. He collect knowledge which he thinks matter for ideas mind. He did not comment or made interference about ideas. Just facts. Some quotes; The main concern among German sociologists was ‘modernity’, how modern life differed in a social, political, psychological, economic and moral sense from what had gone before. This idea was particularly prominent in Germany because of the country’s formal unification on 1 January 1871. All of Max Weber’s work was aimed at identifying what made modern, Western civilisation distinctive but, as Roger Smith has characterised it, all the early sociologists were interested in how modernity came about. Here is Smith’s table: Herbert Spencer: modernity involved a change from a predominantly militant [military] society to an industrial one; Karl Marx: the change was from feudalism to capitalism; Henry Maine (the British sociologist/anthropologist, whose most famous work was Ancient Law, which took an evolutionary approach): status → contract; Max Weber: traditional authority → rational-legal authority; Ferdinand Tönnies: Gemeinschaft (community) → Gesellschaft (association). Lawyers had written the Declaration of Independence and it was mainly lawyers who drafted the constitutions of the states and of the new United States. One effect of this was to shape early American literature. In Revolutionary America there were no poets, dramatists or even novelists who could begin to compare with the political writings of Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Tom Paine or James Wilson. The new nation was politically-minded and legally-minded. ‘They did away with ecclesiastical law, administrative law and even chancery law, and limited the reach of common law–it all reeked of the Old World of privilege and corruption.’ It was this attitude that gave rise to the idea of judicial supremacy, and judicial review. It was this attitude that gave rise to the separation of powers. It gave rise to the law school and to the abolition of the distinction between barrister and solicitor.76 There would be no America as we know it without the Puritan Revolution, the ideas of John Locke and Montesquieu and a knowledge of republican Rome, but Tom Paine (the ‘lethargic visionary’ in John Ferling’s words) was surely right when he observed that ‘the case and circumstance of America present themselves as in the beginning of a world…We are brought at once to the point of seeing government begin, as if we had lived at the beginning of time.’ Imperialism, therefore, wasn’t just conquest. It was a form of international government, of globalisation, and it did not only benefit the ruling powers. The colonialists comprised not just Cecil Rhodes, but Warren Hastings and Sir William Jones.89 The first inkling we have of English was when it arrived in the fifth century AD, spoken by Germanic warriors, who were invited to Britain as mercenaries to shore up the ruins of the recently-departed Roman empire.112 The original inhabitants of the British Isles were Celts, who spoke Celtish, no doubt laced with a little Latin, thanks to the Romans. But the Germanic tribes–Saxons, Angles and Jutes–spoke a variety of dialects, mutually intelligible, and it was some time before the Angles won out. The present-day language of Friesland, by the North Sea in Holland, is judged to have the closest language to early English, where such words as trije (three), froast (frost), blau (blue), brea (bread) and sliepe (sleep) are still in use.113 Early English took on a few words from Latin/Celtic, such as ‘win’ (wine), ‘cetel’ (cattle) and ‘streat’ (street), but the great majority of English words today come from Old English–you, man, son, daughter, friend, house and so on. Also the northern words ‘owt’ (anything) and ‘nowt’, (nothing), from ‘awiht’ and ‘nawiht’.114 The ending ‘-ing’ in place names means ‘the people of…’–Reading, Dorking, Hastings; the ending ‘-ham’ means farm, as in Birmingham, Fulham, Nottingham; ‘-ton’ means enclosure or village, as in Taunton, Luton, Wilton. The Germanic tribes brought with them the runic alphabet, known as the futhorc after the first letters of that alphabet. Runes were made up mainly of straight lines, so they could more easily be cut into stone or wood. The language had twenty-four letters, lacking j, q, v, x and z but including æ, Þ, and uu, later changed to w. In all there were well over fifty major thinkers of the Islamic world who emerged at this time to campaign for the modernisation of Islam–people such as Qasim Amin of Egypt, Mahmud Tarzi of Afghanistan, Sayyid Khan of India, Achmad Dachlan of Java and Wang Jingshai of China. But the three most influential Islamic modernists, whose names deserve to be more widely known in the West, were: Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, of Iran (1838–1897), Muhammad Abduh, of Egypt (1849–1905), and Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865–1935), who was born in Lebanon but spent most of his adult life in Egypt. Al-Afghani’s main message was that European success was basically due to two things, to its science and to its laws, and he said that these were derived from ancient Greece and India. ‘There is no end or limit to science,’ he said, ‘science rules the world.’ (This was in1882.) ‘There was, is, and will be no ruler in the world but science.’ ‘The English have reached Afghanistan; the French have seized Tunisia. In reality, this usurpation, aggression and conquest have not come from the French or the English. Rather it is science that everywhere manifests its greatness and power.’ Al-Afghani wanted the whole Islamic position to be reconsidered. He argued that ‘mind is the motor of historical change’ and he said that Islam needed a Reformation. He pilloried the ulama or religious scholars of the day who read the old texts but didn’t know the causes of electricity, or the principles of the steam engine. How, he asked, could these people call themselves ‘sages’? He likened the ulama to a light with a narrow wick ‘that neither lights its surroundings nor gives light to others’. Al-Afghani studied in France and Russia and while he was in Paris he became friendly with Ernest Renan. Al-Afghani specifically said that the religious person was like an ox yoked to a plough, ‘yoked to the dogma whose slave he is’, and he must walk eternally in the furrow that has been traced for him in advance. He blamed Islam for the ending of Baghdad’s golden age, admitting that the theological schools stifled science, and he pleaded for a non-dogmatic philosophy that would encourage scientific inquiry. Muhammad Abduh also studied in Paris, where he produced a famous journal called The Strongest Link, which agitated against imperialism but also called for religious reform.79 Returning to Egypt he became a leading judge and served on the governing body of the al-Azhar mosque-college, one of the most influential bodies of learning in the Arab world. He campaigned for the education of girls and for secular laws, beyond the sharia. He was especially interested in law and politics. Here are some of the things he wrote: ‘Human knowledge is in effect a collection of rules about useful benefits, by which people organise the methods of work that lead to those benefits…laws are the basis of activities organised…to produce manifest benefits…the law of each nation corresponds to its level in understanding…It is not possible therefore to apply the law of one group of people to another group who surpass the first in level of understanding…order among the second group will be disturbed…’ Politics, he insisted on another occasion, should be determined by circumstances, not by doctrine. Abduh went on to make the case for legal reform in Egypt, for clear simple laws, avoiding what he called the ‘ambiguities’ of the Qur’an. He referred Egypt to France after the Revolution, which he said went from an absolute monarchy, to a restricted monarchy, to a free republic. He wanted a civil law to govern most of life, agreed by all in a logical manner. In his legal system, there was no mention of the prophet, Islam, the mosque, or religion. Muhammad Rashid Rida attended a school in Lebanon which combined modern and religious education. He spoke several European languages and studied widely among the sciences.80 He was close to Abduh and became his biographer. He too had his own journal, al-Manar (The Beacon), which disseminated ideas about reform until his death. Rida’s view was that social, political, civic and religious renewal was necessary and ongoing, so that societies could ‘ascend the paths of science and knowledge’. ‘Humans at all times need the old and the new,’ he said. He noted that while the British, French and Germans mostly preferred their own ways of doing things, and thinking, they were open to foreign influences as well. He admitted to being helped by, and liking, men who he deemed heretics. He sounds here a bit like Erasmus but he also recalls Owen Chadwick’s point, mentioned earlier, where he said that it was only from about 1860 that Europeans who regarded themselves as Christian could be friendly with non-believers. Most importantly, Rida said that the sharia has little or nothing to say about agriculture, industry and trade–‘it is left to the experience of the people’. The state, he says, consists of precisely this–the sciences, arts and industries, financial, administrative and military systems. They are a collective duty in Islam and it is a sin to neglect them. The one rule to remember is ‘Necessity permits the impermissible.’ The Roman achievement was colossal. The Romans themselves were aware of it and it is no surprise that they came to believe in Roma Aeterna, the eternal city. But, as every schoolchild knows, Rome was not eternal. ‘The best-known fact about the Roman Empire,’ says Arthur Ferrill, ‘is that it declined and fell.’ André Piganiol put it, ‘Roman civilization did not die a natural death. It was killed.’ Julius Caesar was deified posthumously after his death in 44 BC, the first emperor to receive this accolade. Being related to Caesar, Augustus openly referred to himself as the ‘son of [the] god’.25 He too was deified after his death, as was his successor, Tiberius. His successor, Caligula, deified himself during his lifetime. The pagans had a tradition of free thought and citizens were free to vary in the literalness with which they viewed the emperor as god. In the western part of the empire, it was often the emperor’s numen, a general divine power, attaching to the rank, which was worshipped. In the east, on the other hand, it was often the man himself who was believed to be a god For example, Julius Africanus (c. 160–240) argued that the world would last for six thousand years. According to his calculations the birth of Christ had occurred exactly 5,500 years after the Creation and therefore, ‘Wisdom,’ according to an ancient Egyptian proverb, ‘has alighted on three things: the brain of the Franks, the hands of the Chinese, and the tongue of the Arabs. The most notable stemmed from the famous edict of Muhammad, ‘Seek ye learning though it be in China.’

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    I'm sure even 700+ pages on the history of human ideas does not complete the entire picture, but this book does a fantastic job of putting civilization in perspective. Ideas is full of fantastic conversation material, and illustrates history not just by highlighting particular dates and wars, but by explaining the various sea changes along the timeline of human progress. While reading, I felt strangely connected to my fellow humans with the sense that 'we're all in this together' - and also real I'm sure even 700+ pages on the history of human ideas does not complete the entire picture, but this book does a fantastic job of putting civilization in perspective. Ideas is full of fantastic conversation material, and illustrates history not just by highlighting particular dates and wars, but by explaining the various sea changes along the timeline of human progress. While reading, I felt strangely connected to my fellow humans with the sense that 'we're all in this together' - and also realized many ideas and concepts that we take for granted now. This book would be a great starting point for someone looking to get into history and wanting a broad range of interesting topics to choose from. Ideas describes the development of thought, civilization, and culture from the dawn of man up to the turn of the 20th century. The writing is thoughtful, not without some of the author's own bias, and focuses mainly on western civilization with a few chapters on the other continents. The author also nicely ties the concepts of each chapter and builds upon them throughout the book. Highly recommended for anyone who has interest in what it means to be human, from a historical perspective.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Richard Newton

    My rating for this book reflects how much I enjoyed it. I am conscious of my own limited knowledge to be really able to say whether this is the history of ideas it sets out to be - but at the very least it is an excellent piece of writing based on an almost inconceivably wide set of sources. This is a huge book, and if you love to think broadly then definitely worth the investment in time to read. There are a couple of niggles - it does seem to have a bias to western European orientated ideas and My rating for this book reflects how much I enjoyed it. I am conscious of my own limited knowledge to be really able to say whether this is the history of ideas it sets out to be - but at the very least it is an excellent piece of writing based on an almost inconceivably wide set of sources. This is a huge book, and if you love to think broadly then definitely worth the investment in time to read. There are a couple of niggles - it does seem to have a bias to western European orientated ideas and therefore there is a suspicion that there might be great ideas from other cultures missed out. But at least Watson explains why it is such in that one of the great ideas he follows through is the idea of Europe. To be fair, this is not all about European ideas and thinkers, large chunks of the book are not. I was also surprised there were no ideas relating to warfare - not because I am a war monger but simply because warfare has been such a major part of human history and has had ideas and concepts relating to it. But these are niggles in a great read and a great achievement by the author.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Smiley

    This book looked a bit too academic for me when I first saw some copies sold in various bookstores in Bangkok some years ago. Then I decided to read it because of its title concerned with 'A History from Fire to Freud', therefore, I think I should know and understand more from what Peter Watson searched and wrote for his readers to try reading on our intellectual developments in the East and the West. I like this part in the Author's Note (p. xix): In a work such as Ideas it is comforting to thi This book looked a bit too academic for me when I first saw some copies sold in various bookstores in Bangkok some years ago. Then I decided to read it because of its title concerned with 'A History from Fire to Freud', therefore, I think I should know and understand more from what Peter Watson searched and wrote for his readers to try reading on our intellectual developments in the East and the West. I like this part in the Author's Note (p. xix): In a work such as Ideas it is comforting to think of learning and wisdom as one and the same but Rosten immediately punctures any such hope. 'A bright young chachem told his grandmother that he was going to be a Doctor of Philosophy. She smiled proudly: "Wonderful. But what kind of disease is philosophy?"'

  14. 4 out of 5

    Richard Angeli

    I've never been big on reading history, but this book is different. Well documented with the best current sources from many different disciplines. Where there are differing theories about a given topic The book explains them, points out the dominant ones, and leaves the conclusions to the reader. I read the book cover to cover. I keep a copy on my current e reader to refer back to when a particular political, philosophical, or theological discussion comes up and triggers a new thought. I also pur I've never been big on reading history, but this book is different. Well documented with the best current sources from many different disciplines. Where there are differing theories about a given topic The book explains them, points out the dominant ones, and leaves the conclusions to the reader. I read the book cover to cover. I keep a copy on my current e reader to refer back to when a particular political, philosophical, or theological discussion comes up and triggers a new thought. I also purchased copies of the hardcopy edition for each of my 4 adult children. Maybe they will read it someday too.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

    I borrowed this book from the library as an e-book. Much of what I read in it varied from interesting to fascinating. It was a slow read partly because of the length. But I did have trouble following the flow as the general impression for me was that it jumped around. It was generally chronological and within any particular sub-topic it gave me plenty of things to think about in the evolution of ideas. Purely for the material I would give it 5 stars but I had to check it outat least five times f I borrowed this book from the library as an e-book. Much of what I read in it varied from interesting to fascinating. It was a slow read partly because of the length. But I did have trouble following the flow as the general impression for me was that it jumped around. It was generally chronological and within any particular sub-topic it gave me plenty of things to think about in the evolution of ideas. Purely for the material I would give it 5 stars but I had to check it outat least five times for three weeks at a time. In other words, it was not hard to put down. But when I did pick it up again I did enjoy what I was learning.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nageen

    Literary Merit: 2.95 stars Sister and I got this ages ago, ( I am writing a review now, detailed review will be updated soon) upon recommendations. It is well composed, interesting and well written, I began to like this as I read along the different chapters and then I began to realize that it is heavily opinionated. The author has led his beliefs on religiosity, God and politics come in between when narrating history and thus the value neutrality of this texts finishes right there. If you really Literary Merit: 2.95 stars Sister and I got this ages ago, ( I am writing a review now, detailed review will be updated soon) upon recommendations. It is well composed, interesting and well written, I began to like this as I read along the different chapters and then I began to realize that it is heavily opinionated. The author has led his beliefs on religiosity, God and politics come in between when narrating history and thus the value neutrality of this texts finishes right there. If you really want to read history then pick a book with facts and objectivity (no history book is objective however they can be at least fact-ful) because this one is opinionated.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lola Haskins

    In spite of its writing style, which is so academic that I have to underline or highlight to keep myself paying attention, this is a truly exciting book, as ambitious as the title implies. I read it in bursts --between fiction and poetry reads--because it's too heavy to retain the information if I put in long stretches. If you liked, you could read just the parts that interested you-- though to some extent each chapter builds on the one before. In spite of its writing style, which is so academic that I have to underline or highlight to keep myself paying attention, this is a truly exciting book, as ambitious as the title implies. I read it in bursts --between fiction and poetry reads--because it's too heavy to retain the information if I put in long stretches. If you liked, you could read just the parts that interested you-- though to some extent each chapter builds on the one before.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    For me, a mammoth read. I needed hours a day for two weeks, but it was well worth the effort. I'd recommend that the pre-history section be skimmed unless it's of special interest to a reader, but from the Golden Age of Greece to the twentieth century I didn't want to skip a page, and there are over 700 of them! For me, a mammoth read. I needed hours a day for two weeks, but it was well worth the effort. I'd recommend that the pre-history section be skimmed unless it's of special interest to a reader, but from the Golden Age of Greece to the twentieth century I didn't want to skip a page, and there are over 700 of them!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Geertvanderzalm

    Took me a long time to get through this book, but it gives a very thorough account of the history of the world by considering the history of ideas and the human intellectual development. If you're just interested in world history, then Guns, Germs and Steel might be a better start. If you want to have a full account of how human thought and culture developed, this is an excellent book. Took me a long time to get through this book, but it gives a very thorough account of the history of the world by considering the history of ideas and the human intellectual development. If you're just interested in world history, then Guns, Germs and Steel might be a better start. If you want to have a full account of how human thought and culture developed, this is an excellent book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Pauline

    Have made it to part two and now on chapter five, 'Sacrifice, Soul, Saviour: the spritual breakthrough'. This book reminds me of everything I loved about uni when I was seventeen. I'm being escorted through the millenia by a gentleman and a scholar, getting a little window into the mysteries of how we came to be who we are today, and nourishing a little dream of academia. Have made it to part two and now on chapter five, 'Sacrifice, Soul, Saviour: the spritual breakthrough'. This book reminds me of everything I loved about uni when I was seventeen. I'm being escorted through the millenia by a gentleman and a scholar, getting a little window into the mysteries of how we came to be who we are today, and nourishing a little dream of academia.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This book is like a cheesecake. Sitting down to tackle the whole thing at once probably isn't going to end well. You have to consume small pieces here and there in order to digest it properly. That said, it's an incredibly informative and comprehensive work with a pretty engaging style. I'm glad I read it, and at this point I'm glad I finished it and I can finally start reading something else! This book is like a cheesecake. Sitting down to tackle the whole thing at once probably isn't going to end well. You have to consume small pieces here and there in order to digest it properly. That said, it's an incredibly informative and comprehensive work with a pretty engaging style. I'm glad I read it, and at this point I'm glad I finished it and I can finally start reading something else!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    Even more comprehensive in time scale, though a bit compressed in places inevitably. Real interesting account of the growth of ideas.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    Other books cover this topic better. Poor binding on my copy.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rodrigo Smeke

    The part I value the most about this book, is how it enables you to grasp the livelihood of cultures' charge and the vastness of phenomena it inspirits. The part I value the most about this book, is how it enables you to grasp the livelihood of cultures' charge and the vastness of phenomena it inspirits.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mathijs van Meerkerk

    One of the most comprehensive books I ever read. It is impossible to imagine how one author could collect this much knowledge. If you want to understand history from the perspective of thought and ideas this the best you can get. History not thought from the perspective of great men but from ideas. Why was the discovery of America so important for European thought? When was individualism discovered? Who was the last person to know everything? Do the rules of the heavens apply to the world of peo One of the most comprehensive books I ever read. It is impossible to imagine how one author could collect this much knowledge. If you want to understand history from the perspective of thought and ideas this the best you can get. History not thought from the perspective of great men but from ideas. Why was the discovery of America so important for European thought? When was individualism discovered? Who was the last person to know everything? Do the rules of the heavens apply to the world of people as well? All these questions are answered and many more. The first chapter is the discovery of time. When did we realise that the world is more than 6000 years old. Than a deep dive in our prehistory with a long contemplation on what was the first idea. A wonderful and deep dive in the diverse expanse of human thought. It puts all our thinking into a great unending narrative. We are not the first to discover new ideas and we hope we will not be the last. A must read for everyone who want to understand the great journey ideas have taken through the centuries. This book lets you discover that we truly stand on the shoulders of giants. The only thing wrong with this book is the strange long format it comes in. The sentences and pages are too long for a comfortable read. But if you can get over this fact you will be richer and wiser for it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Fuzail Zafar

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. What more a history zealot can ask for: all in one. That's how satisfying the presence of Peter Watson's Ideas on your bookshelf feels like. It fulfills a two pronged desire of every history student: to know about the events of the past and find out why did they happen that way. This treatise is so colossal that it quenches both aforementioned thirsts. From Lucy to Gilgamesh, the reader is on a time-travel all the way back to the world of millions of years ago. One gets to meet with their ancest What more a history zealot can ask for: all in one. That's how satisfying the presence of Peter Watson's Ideas on your bookshelf feels like. It fulfills a two pronged desire of every history student: to know about the events of the past and find out why did they happen that way. This treatise is so colossal that it quenches both aforementioned thirsts. From Lucy to Gilgamesh, the reader is on a time-travel all the way back to the world of millions of years ago. One gets to meet with their ancestors, see ancient homes, become scavenger for a moment, cook food from fire instigate through rub of the monoliths, experience the transition from bronze to iron age and revel in joy with modern homo sapiens on the eve of the end of the ice age. Unfortunately, impartiality of the author, an element so crucial when it comes to history, also comes to an end. From the advent of Jesus to birth of Freud, the author irresistably keeps heaping praise on the Western civilisations, and overlooks, or even castigates if the topic is mistakenly touched, some of the greatest civilistaions of days of yore. From overlooking Africa to degrading great Muslim sultanates, and from taking pride in white supremacy to exaggerating Roman achievements, the biased views of Watson keep on extenuating the credibility of this wonderful book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Vadim Polikov

    This is a history of the world but told in ideas rather than events like wars and kingdoms. It traces how one idea leads to another. Incredibly long and detailed, with hundreds, if not thousands, of names and episodes woven together, of philosophers, scientists, and artists who came up with and evolved ideas. Talks about different civilizations until middle ages, when it begins to focus almost exclusively on Europe. Suggests that the period of 1050 -1250 in Europe formed a turning point and was This is a history of the world but told in ideas rather than events like wars and kingdoms. It traces how one idea leads to another. Incredibly long and detailed, with hundreds, if not thousands, of names and episodes woven together, of philosophers, scientists, and artists who came up with and evolved ideas. Talks about different civilizations until middle ages, when it begins to focus almost exclusively on Europe. Suggests that the period of 1050 -1250 in Europe formed a turning point and was the ultimate cause of the rise of the west. Definitely worth re-reading as there is way too much to absorb the first time. Having a better knowledge of world history would also help put events in context. In conclusion, says the three most influential ideas in history have been the soul (since humanity keeps turning inward at various historical episodes like the Axial age (when most religions were founded) and Reformation, the idea of Europe, and the experiment (since this gives people an independent, rational form of authority). Only negatives are that the writing can be a little tedious since there is one person after another in the narrative, and the references are so poorly done as to be useless. Definitely worth a reread though.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sandy Maguire

    I'm giving up on this after about 50%. While it's a fascinating read, it's _fucking_ long, and the title is a lie. A better title would be "Way More About Christianity Than You Could Ever Possibly Want To Know," but I'll grant that his is catchier. The good points: this dude has done his research, and somehow makes things interesting that I couldn't have given fewer shits about. The bad points: SO GODDAMN LONG. Four(?) looooong chapters on early Christians, and then two paragraphs about the origin I'm giving up on this after about 50%. While it's a fascinating read, it's _fucking_ long, and the title is a lie. A better title would be "Way More About Christianity Than You Could Ever Possibly Want To Know," but I'll grant that his is catchier. The good points: this dude has done his research, and somehow makes things interesting that I couldn't have given fewer shits about. The bad points: SO GODDAMN LONG. Four(?) looooong chapters on early Christians, and then two paragraphs about the origins of mathematics. The ebook has no internal structure, so you can't even skip chapters you don't care about. Watson doesn't know the difference between hyphens and dashes, which I never realized was important until this book---it caused a lot of re-parsing on my part. Desperately needs an editor. If you're curious in the social fabric of the history of the world, you could do worse than this book. I wasn't, so I couldn't.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeremiah Hope

    This is one of my 'periodic re-read' books, it has a wealth of ideas - the clue is in the title folks! Peter Watson takes a fairly brisk gallop through the key discoveries and intellectual jumps of the human species in various corners of the world that influenced the next spasm of activity. He has linked evolutionary, technological, social, artistic and religious development around the world, comparing and contrasting and then following the strongest threads on to the next epoch. There will alway This is one of my 'periodic re-read' books, it has a wealth of ideas - the clue is in the title folks! Peter Watson takes a fairly brisk gallop through the key discoveries and intellectual jumps of the human species in various corners of the world that influenced the next spasm of activity. He has linked evolutionary, technological, social, artistic and religious development around the world, comparing and contrasting and then following the strongest threads on to the next epoch. There will always be significant omissions in a work of this nature, it is impossible to go into huge detail on specific times and concepts or to cover everything. He has, however, managed a convincing and fluent narrative that I find immensely appealing. The writing style is engaging and he keeps a good pace up through well over 1000 pages. I have read this book at least four times and each time gained something from it and highly recommend it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nosemonkey

    Genuinely astonishing for a book like this to have been conceived, researched, and written by one person. A vast yet coherent 1000+ page history of pretty much everything up to the start of the 20th century (an era where ideas proliferated so much the same author appears to have written *two* books of similar lengths to cover it). It's also surprisingly engaging and accessible throughout. Is it a bit Eurocentric? Yes. This may be excusable in the latter half - especially considering the c.1900 cu Genuinely astonishing for a book like this to have been conceived, researched, and written by one person. A vast yet coherent 1000+ page history of pretty much everything up to the start of the 20th century (an era where ideas proliferated so much the same author appears to have written *two* books of similar lengths to cover it). It's also surprisingly engaging and accessible throughout. Is it a bit Eurocentric? Yes. This may be excusable in the latter half - especially considering the c.1900 cut off point - but it could have done with more comparative history throughout, to show how similar concepts emerged and evolved in different parts of the world. Not that there's none of this - and I'll admit it wouldn't necessarily always have been enlightening, and could even have been confusing - but a little more from India and China, plus almost anything more from Africa or South America, would have been appreciated. Nonetheless, a solid five stars for both effort and execution.

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