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The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom (P.S.) Paperback – May 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060884614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060884611
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 101,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Winchester studied Geology at Oxford University. He is the author of 'Atlantic','A Crack in the Edge of the World', 'Krakatoa', 'The Map That Changed the World', 'The Professor and the Madman', 'The Fracture Zone', 'Outposts', 'Korea', among many other titles. He lives in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.

Product Description

The Man Who Loved China In sumptuous and illuminating detail, the bestselling author of "The Professor and the Madman" and "Krakatoa" brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China. Full description

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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on 11 May 2009
Format: Paperback
Simon Winchester has by now established quite a reputation for popular biographies and general popular humanities writing, and as "The Man Who Loved China" shows, this is well deserved. In this book, Winchester tells the riveting story of the life of Joseph Needham, the eccentric Briton who was trained as a biologist, but would become both perhaps the greatest Sinologist of the 20th Century and one of China's most stalwart defenders.

Needham came from a solid left-leaning middle class background, becoming more and more socialist during his studies at Cambridge University, although never joining the CPGB. He developed as a biochemist an early interest in China and the Chinese, and at a time when British politics was avowedly pro-Japanese, as they would remain until 1941, Needham was one of the few voices raised in China's defence. Being a true renaissance man, Needham learned Chinese in a short period from his Chinese mistress, who is next to him one of the protagonists of the book (Needham had an open marriage, being consistently liberal in sexual matters).

It was this known pro-China sentiment that led to his charge as a diplomatic representative of the King to the Nationalist Chinese, where his task was to support the scientific efforts of the Chinese in the non-Japanese occupied areas. Despite his general sympathies to the Communist Chinese cause, he set himself on this task with vigor, expending great effort to assist Chinese science and the Chinese in general with supplies, as well as making important and useful contacts with scientists and researchers in that country. He also undertook, in association with the famous Rewi Alley, various expeditions to remote parts of that vast land to do archeological and anthropological fieldwork on his own.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jezza on 26 July 2009
Format: Paperback
Very enjoyable, light touch history - full of nice anecdotes, good grasp of the big picture. When I got the book I was a little confused that Winchester appears to have simultaneously written another book about Needham - I guess that has a more detailed treatment of his research about the history of science in China; this book is rather light on that, which is a shame. But I'm keen to read that one too now, which says something - I'd rather do that than simply start reading Needham's "book" itself, though I'd like to think I will do that eventually.

If I have a minor gripe it's in the treatment of Needham's politics. Winchester seems to regard Needham's Marxism as somewhere between naivete (the intellectual as 'useful idiot') and eccentricity - along with nudism and folk-dancing. There isn't much sense that Needham was part of a movement of left-wing scientists, who felt that their Marxism and their science were two sides of the same coin. Given that this book is mainly biographical, it seems odd that there is not a single mention of JD Bernal, for example, who wrote on Science in History, was a Marxist and a scientist, and part of Needham's circle. There is more about the stuffy gits at his college.

But this is still a very good book - I especially enjoyed the add-ons at the end, including the anecdote about the food delivery guy.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Ian C. Ruxton on 3 Jun. 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a 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 in perpetuity, 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.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on 12 May 2008
Format: Hardcover
There are 2 facets of Simon Winchester's work that make him one of my favorite authors. Firstly, he brings amazing players in History forward that I very often have never heard of. Secondly, he makes reading History tremendously fascinating. The latter should be a given, how can our past be anything but fascinating? The reality is that History books can be painful to read.

Noel Joseph Terrence Montgomery Needham is the subject of Mr. Winchester's 19th work, sound familiar? Not to me. However by the end of the book I look forward to seeking out more about this man as Mr. Winchester has a knack for catalyzing a reader's interest well beyond the book he offers. Professor Needham was a astonishing man who filled his 94 years with remarkable travels, eccentric behavior and a decision so poor the reader will ask was he a fool or a knave? (Question posed by the author)

What is not in dispute is the marvelous history of China Professor Needham documented through first hand investigation over thousands of miles traveled in China (many in war time) and the decades of research that followed. The only other historian that comes to mind as being so single minded in his pursuit of a subject is Sir Martin Gilbert and his decades long work on Sir Winston Spencer Churchill.

The work is also timely as it coincides with China's re-entry as a focal point for the world. China's existence is best measured in millennia and her scientific contributions when listed are nearly as long and often pre-date conventional wisdom on who was first with a given invention. Think you know where printing was first documented, suspension bridges first built, how about the compass, blood circulation or perhaps a flame-thrower?

China's recent history is no indicator of its fantastic past and may more likely be an indicator of what is yet to come. This is another great read by a wonderful author who never disappoints.
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