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The Man Who Loved China [Format Kindle]

Simon Winchester

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Présentation de l'éditeur

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.

Biographie de l'auteur

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, Atlantic, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa. In 2006, Mr. Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He lives in western Massachusetts.

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  • Format : Format Kindle
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  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 352 pages
  • Editeur : HarperCollins e-books; Édition : Reprint (17 mars 2009)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
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Amazon.com: 4.2 étoiles sur 5  181 commentaires
144 internautes sur 148 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 4th biography 14 mai 2008
Par Stephen Balbach - Publié sur Amazon.com
Simon Winchester certainly has the creative power to immortalize anyone or thing he writes about, and so it is with the life of Joseph Needham (1900-1995), a Cambridge scholar polymath. Needham is probably obscure to most people, but among his Don peers he is a legendary as the writer of a massive encyclopedia on Chinese science and civilization designed to answer that great question: Why was China the mother lode of scientific and cultural innovation for so long, and why did it come to a stop by the 15th century - why didn't the Industrial revolution happen in China? At one point China was making 15 great innovations per century (paper, compass, stirrup, etc..), according to Needham, but then the country stagnated and for the last 500 years or so had a reputation for backwardness and poverty. Similar to Jared Diamond's "Yali Question" (why did Europe have "cargo" and Yali didn't?), Needham set out to find answers by cataloging the history of Chinese innovation. He created a massive multi-volume encyclopedia of such prodigious learning, value and length it has been compared with James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary, or Sidney Lee and the Dictionary of National Biography.

I've now read all four of Winchesters biographies (The Professor and the Madman (1998), The Map That Changed the World (2001), The Meaning of Everything (2003)) and I would rank "China" as good as 'The Meaning', not as good as 'Professor' and better than "Map". However Winchester has done something different this time and I hope he builds on it in the future, he has made the subject relevant on a global level - the rise of China and discovery of its past history and importance. More than a well-told and fascinating story of an eccentric English professor rescued from the obscurity of the archives, 'The Man Who Loved China' in a way is about the bigger picture of the rise and future of the largest nation on Earth, one of the central events of the 21st century.
91 internautes sur 98 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Important and valuable book by a master biographer 16 mai 2008
Par Ian C. Ruxton - Publié sur Amazon.com
This is a most timely biography, its publication coinciding with the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a disastrous major earthquake, which have together turned the eyes of the world's media onto the "Middle Kingdom", as the Chinese have confidently called their country for 5,000 years, believing throughout this time that it is indeed the centre of the world. It now seems that China's (and Needham's) time in the spotlight has come at last.

I remember Joseph Needham as the Master of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University when I matriculated there as a young man in 1975, though he retired from the Mastership one year later. The Needham Research Institute at Cambridge for the study of East Asian history, science and technology preserves his name, while in China he is known as Li Yue-se, the name given to him by the woman who later became his second wife at the outset of his Chinese language studies "[i]n order to commingle her pupil's identity with his linguistic passion, and thus more effectively bind him to the wheel" (p. 40).

The descriptions I heard as an undergraduate of Needham as a "Marxist Catholic" [sic.] and "a great Chinese scholar" barely do justice to the man. Though I never remember having a conversation with the Great Man and was quite in awe of him, I often saw his slightly stooping figure - crowned somewhat mysteriously by a beret - walking in the old courts of the College. (He also sent me a telegram which I remember verbatim and treasure to this day: "Elected Scholarship Caius College. Congratulations Needham Master.")

Needham was - as Winchester says - a sociable man and invited us freshmen (including Alastair Campbell, later spin-doctor to Tony Blair) to meet him once in the Master's Lodge. In his address in the Hall to our group of Caius freshmen - the last he would welcome into the College - he told us in a somewhat cavalier way not to seek singlemindedly for distinction, or aim for a first class degree, but to enjoy and make the most of our time at the University and be happy about any honours which happened to come our way. (I have attempted to follow his benevolent advice!)

Simon Winchester's skilful book is an overdue tribute to this great British academic-eccentric. It is a fair and impartial account, and does the subject ample justice. There are one or two very minor typographical errors. Nevertheless, I read the book rapidly and almost in one sitting, which is rare for me and a testament to its readability.

Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham, whatever his flaws and errors of judgment may have been, deserves greater fame outside Cambridge and China. This carefully crafted must-read page-turner of a work will surely supply it, and stimulate in many readers a desire to read some of Needham's own books. (After this I want to read more by Simon Winchester too - he certainly likes to write about big literary creations and their creators!)

Ian Ruxton, editor of The Diaries of Sir Ernest Satow, British Envoy in Peking (1900-06), Vol. 1. (I guess Needham's influence extended to my research also, to a considerable degree!)
63 internautes sur 68 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Sinophilia orgy 23 juillet 2008
Par H. Schneider - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
I have decided to elevate Joseph Needham to the ranks of my primary heroes. That means he joins Vinegar Joe Stilwell (the American General who tried to teach Chiang Kai Shek how to run an army so that he might win a war; he failed, as you probably know) and Alfred Russell Wallace (the man who found that evolution works via natural selection, but had a marketing disadvantage to his colleague Charles Darwin; the theory is called Darwinism, not Wallacism, as you might know). Needham wrote close to 20000 pages on the history of Chinese science and civilization, he was a most amazing alround scientist. The 'book', or should we call it a library, is unsurpassed in his subject - but have you ever heard of it? I mean you, the non-expert on China. Let me know. I suspect very few people outside an inner circle ever heard of it.
Winchester has published quite a few books on diverse subjects. I mainly like his travel books: first a walk through South Korea, then a ship ride up the Yangzi. Given that he is an experienced travel writer, I am a bit puzzled by some of his geographical gaffes: flying over the hump from India to Kunming, the connection from British India to National China during WW2, W. claims the plane had to cross glaciers. Well, not likely. Better look it up on a map. Glacial melting can't have progressed that much since then. Or: Needham's first stop in China is Kunming, where he allegedly watches the sun set over the distant Tibetan hills on his first evening after arriving. Odd in view of the hundreds km distance from Kunming to Tibet and the fact that the city has its own hills to the West.
Apart from Needham's scientific formidability, he was also a prime specimen of British excentricity (they allow every excentricity in Cambridge, as long as it doesn't frighten the horses): a biochemist with highest distinctions early on, married to a brillant colleague, a freethinker, nudist, socialist, folk dancer, playboy, leftist activist, member of the left establishment, language genius, lay preacher (yes, he was also religious).
And then: he meets his lifetime love, a Chinese colleague from Nanjing (whom he will marry half a century later), who makes him learn the language. He manages to get an assignment with the Foreign Service during WW2 and moves to Chongqing in 43, as Counsellor to the Embassy.
That's the beginning of the end. The man starts researching and writing... 20 volumes? He is obsessed with Chinese history and goes on his decade long rampage.
As implied above, he was somewhat of a political fool, but it's hard for me to begrudge him that. Not everybody looked at it so generously though. For a while he had a key position in UNESCO, in charge of science (he put the S into UNECO), when Julian Huxley was the DG. The US pushed him out for his communist sympathies.
Worse was to come: he let himself be misused by China for Cold War propaganda in connection with the Korean War, as head of an 'independant' commission that was to investigate alleged US uses of biological weapons against Korea and China. From what is known today, no such thing happened, the whole show was staged by the Soviets and the Chinese, and Needham spoiled his name for years to come. He got blacklisted in the US for 20 years. He was just too naive and believed that everybody else was as honest and serious as he was himself.
One sad thing I learned from the book: the recent earthquake in Sichuan hit a place of magnificent historical importance, the great water works at Dujiangyan, built 250 BC, comprising dikes, dams, canals.
49 internautes sur 57 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 good read but incomplete biography 31 mai 2008
Par Rudolph V. Dusek - Publié sur Amazon.com
Winchester's life of Joseph Needham is indeed well written, but we still need a full and more knowledgeable life of Needham. Winchester is good on Needham's sex life and its role in his initial love of China (discretely avoided in most academic discussions of his work), on his early travels in China, and on the controversy about his accusation that the US used germ warfare in the Korean War.

However, Winchester's account says little about Needham's early scientific and historical work in biochemical embryology (perhaps thinking it irrelevant to his China studies).(This topic is discussed in Haraway's book Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields: Metaphors of Organicism in Twentieth-Century Developmental Biology.) Needham had an organismic and historical view of developmental biology, combining an interest in modern scientific techniques with process and holistic views of reality. This organismic view of science fit well with the approach of Chinese traditional thinkers toward reality.
Needham's philosophical interests also played a role in his recognition and appreciation of the traditional Chinese approach to science.

Needham's association with the British Marxist biologists J. D. Bernal and J. B. S. Haldane is touched on in a sentence and a footnote. (See Gary Weskey, The Visible College: A Collective Biography of British Scientists and Socialists of the 1930s" for a discussion of Needham in relation to Bernal, Haldane, Hogben, and Levy, all British Marxist scientists of the period.) Also omitted is the dramatic story of the surprise visit to London by plane of a dozen scientific superstars led by Nikolai Bukharin (about to be purged along with the plant geographer Vavilov) and the effect of their talks in inspiring Needham. (See Science at the Crossroads (Social history of science, no. 23) or the reprint of the central paper at this conference, Boris Hessen, "The Social and Economic Roots of Newton's Principia.") Needham said he heard "the trumpet blast" of their notion of a truly social and political history of science. No explanation is given by Winchester of the aspects of Marxism and process philosophy as philosophies of nature that were congenial with Needham's sympathy for traditional Chinese visions of nature. There is a non-reductionistic materialism or naturalism which recognizes levels of organization and development and a process view of nature in Marxism.

Needham also found the process view worked out in the logician and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead's metaphysical process philosophy, which emphasized the role of feeling throughout nature and the replacement of substances (enduring objects) with a vision of reality in terms of events and processes. Unfortunately Winchester neglects these conceptual roots of Needham's reconstruction of the Chinese vision of nature.

Likewise, Winchester does not discuss the political controversy upon the publications of the earlier volumes of Needham's magnum opus that ensued from Needham's Marxism. For instance,an early review of C. Gillispie, leading historian of science, attempted to discredit Needham's claims about the amazing technological and scientific discoveries the early Chinese made by claiming that Needham's Marxism makes his historical claims untrustworthy Chinese Communist propaganda. Gillispie presumably was later embarassed by this erroneous accusation.

Finally, Winchester has very little discussion of the involved historical controversy about Needham's explanation of why the Chinese did not develop modern science, despite being far ahead of the West in technology and natural history observation until at least 1500. Winchester dismisses this issue by saying that now China is industrializing and developing modern science. True, but the issue of why China didn't develop experimental and mathematical science back in the early modern period while the comparatively backward Europe did is still a puzzle. Needham's explanation involves the role of individualism (tied to atomism), capitalism, and formal legal systems (which Needham claims were metaphorically and practically extended in the later middle ages to the notion of laws of nature -- for instance in the court trials of animals) in the West which were largely lacking in China. The Mohists, or followers of Mo Tzu were the only ancient Chinese group that held a causal, mechanical, and analytical view of nature similar to that of western science. The Mohists were craftsmen and military engineers, and their philosophy along with their religious and political movement disapeared with the centralization of China under the First Emperor. This sort of social explanation also smacks of Marxism or at least of Max Weber's sociology of rationalization, which may be why Winchester doesn't discuss it.

(See my The Holistic Inspirations of Physics: The Underground History of Electromagnetic Theory for a discussion, among other things of the currents of Chinese philosophy philosophy of nature and their contrasts and similarities with strands of western philosophy and three approaches to the sociology of China as explanations for the dominantly holistic Chinese approach to nature.)
16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Superb history in the Winchester way 27 mai 2008
Par Jerry Saperstein - Publié sur Amazon.com
Simon Winchester's forte is creating a microscopic view of events. They may be great events, like the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 or events that but for his eye might have slipped unnoticed into the annals of history, like the story of the madman and the Professor.

With this story of the life and work of Joseph Needham, Winchester once again works his very special magic. Without Winchester, it is most likely that only a diminishing number of academics would know of Needham at all, much less the results of his work, a comprehensive history of Chinese scientific acheivements.

Instead Winchester tells us the story of an extraordinary, eccentric Englishman who became a Professor at Cambridge. A socialist, if not a Communist, Winchester married, but agreed with his wife that their relationship would be open. Thus, Needham added to the relationship a Chinese mistress who was a part of his and his wife's lives for the next 50-some years. It is his mistress, Gwei-djen, a competent scientist in her own right, who awakens in Needham an interest in China.

Needham's interest in China - he taught himself to write and speak Mandarin - brings him an appointment in WWII to go to China and be a liason between British and Chinese institutions of learning. Bear in mind that much of China was occupied by Japan at this time.

Needham did much more than was requested of him and the result was ther idea of creating a masterwork that would record the history of China's scientific invention, which was much greater and impressive than was commonly believed in the West at the time. Thus began Needham's multi-volume masterpiece which is still considered a classic today.

Winchester's genius is first being able to spot the seed of a good story, in this case acquiring a single volume of Needham's "Science and Civilisation [sic] In China". Next is Winchester's ability and willingness to research, which has been evident in all his books. It is indeed the glue that makes his compelling stories possible. No detail is to small, apparently, to escape Winchester's scrutiny. One can only imagine how much Winchester is forced to leave out. Finally, Winchester is a superb, mellifluous writer. He is one of the few today who can (and does) use almost archaic or very rarely used words properly to make his point. Unlike the poseurs writing in some magazines, Winchester uses the words properly and not merely in an attempt to impress.

It is remarkable that Winchester was able to fully describe Needham's life in a mere 265 pages. Other authors might have taken several hundred more, but Winchester has a laudable economy of style.

Joseph Needham was certainly a very interesting man who led a very interesting life, but without Simon Winchester, Needham most likely would have slipped into oblivion in the not very distant future.

I have few criticisms of this book. I found one editing error in the book, a near-miracle these days, where Winchester refers to the use of chopsticks in China for the past thirty decades. I believe the reference may have been intended to be to centuries, not decades. Next, in describing Needham's politics which were unabashedly left-wing, Winchester makes his own views apparent, which I felt was out of character for him and inappropriate to the book. These are small issues and do not detract from the book as a whole.

Overall, "The Man Who Loved China" is a fantastic history of an extraordinary man written by a truly competent author. Very much worth reading.

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