Customer Reviews


42 Reviews
5 star:
 (26)
4 star:
 (11)
3 star:
 (3)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb rehabilitation of the middle ages
This book is an excellent discovery. Thanks to previous reviewers on here who recommended it. Having just read it, is my turn to recommend it now.

There are several reasons to recommend this book. Firstly it is a good historical drama with a rich cast of interesting characters and contexts. The author is a good narrator and takes us through the stories briskly...
Published on 24 Nov 2009 by Dr. Nicholas P. G. Davies

versus
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard going for such an interesting subject
This book was shortlisted for the science writing prize, and my interest in the history of science therefore meant that it soon made it onto my wish list. I was intrigued by how much science and philosophy interacted in the Medieval period and to learn more about early scientists - Roger Bacon being one of the only early natural philosophers that I was aware of...
Published on 8 July 2011 by Clare Topping


Most Helpful First | Newest First

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another brick removed from the wall of materialist assumptions, 1 Sep 2009
By 
P. M. Fernandez "exilefromgroggs" (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
It would be easy to conclude that our ignorance of the Medieval era means that nothing of any significance actually did happen. The "Dark Ages" have come to signify an era of intellectual and cultural stagnation between the Classical era and the Renaissance. This has been fed by writers from later times aiming to present their own time as the new golden age, in contrast to barren era that went before.

Modern scholarship has started to evaluate the Middle Ages in a more objective light. James Hannam's book, "God's Philosophers", gathers together stories of the people, ideas and innovations from the time. He shows that, far from being an era in which culture and technology stood still, key developments took place without which modernity wouldn't have been possible. In fact, even the humanistic ideas which shaped the Renaissance have their roots in philosophical/religious work from the Middle Ages.

Hannam highlights developments in many areas - mathematics, timekeeping, optics - as well as more obvious ones, such as the printing press. He shows that earlier progress was acknowledged - or at least apparent - in the work of early modern scientists - Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, Brahe, and subsequently Newton.

He also considers the supposed clash of cultures between the church and the forces of rationalism, and argues that it was not nearly as apparent as is suggested now. Galileo's conflict with the Inquisition has already been shown elsewhere to not have taken place as a struggle between faith and science. Hannam argues further, highlighting the role of the church in establishing universities as centres of independent thought, granting them a substantial degree of intellectual autonomy. The Inquisition itself, he suggests, was not the ruthless and intolerant secret police organisation we have come to know and fear. Instead, it was patient and careful, loath to impose heavy sanctions, and operating using a higher standard of judicial procedure than could be expected in contemporary civil courts.

The book is fast paced and well-written. It is very hard to dispute his assertion that the cultural and scientific achievements of the era were significant and far-reaching. Perhaps it would be possible to argue that with the withdrawal of intellectual life to the monasteries and subsequently the universities, life was culturally narrower for the general population than it had been under the Romans. However, with the spread of architecture and the growth of cities, even this seems unlikely. This is a very helpful introduction to the Middle Ages in Europe.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Good read!, 13 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
James Hannam's book is an excellent read, easy to follow an shows just how much current science is owed to those Christians who wanted to know God through God's creation.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars A excellent book in every way., 5 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
informative, indeed educational. Very easy to read and worthwhile. When I've finished this I will certainly read it again
this time more attentively and will probably obtain a hard copy for my library.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it, 26 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Good book.Totally demolishes the already discredited conflict theory.James hannam offers very compelling insights in this book.Highly recommended book to people interested in the history of religion and science.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars An informative & gratifyingly easy & enjoyable read, 15 July 2013
By 
Sebastian Palmer "sebuteo" (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (Paperback)
This is a great book. Whilst I'm not sure I agree with all of Hannam's views (or those of a number of other reviewers on Amazon), nevertheless his book is very informative and, very gratifyingly, easy and enjoyable to read.

I just so happened to read it, by a fortuitous accident of timing, whilst taking part in a study group discussing humanism and religion. The apparent modern tensions between these two 'schools' is in part the motivation for this books attempt to rehabilitate the so-called Dark Ages. Interestingly Waldemar Januszczak has been attempting to do the same in relation to art of that period very recently.

I learned much more about many characters I knew a little about - a very little in most cases - (a good number of whom I'd first encountered thanks to Kenneth Clark's excellent Civilisation series), figures like Anselm, Boethius, Abelard, and Paracelsus (whose full name deserves to be remembered and savoured: Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim!), as well as numerous others completely new to me, like Adelard of Bath, Richard of Wallingford, and Jerome Cardan.

Hannam's main thrust is to shine a light on the "vital but unloved legacy" that constitutes the roots and developing body of medieval science or, to use the term I love and Hannam favours, 'natural philosophy'. I won't dwell on detailed content, as so many other reviewers have beaten me to it. Nor will I get embroiled in the imbroglio re science vs. religion. I'll just make a few general observations: as well as being fascinating, compelling and well written, Hannam has got numerous other things just right: chapters are short (it always helps, especially in today's time-starved culture, to be able to feel one's making progress, bite-sized chapters prevent potential bogging down and inertia), there's a timeline, a further reading list, and a cast of key characters, all of which are things I often wish other books had thought to include, plus the more usual footnotes and index.

I contacted Hannam upon having finished the book, to tell him how much I'd enjoyed it, and also to ask if he might come and talk to our study group. He was very nice, and said he'd be delighted to come and talk to us. Unfortunately this never came to pass. Whether this was due to lack of interest from the rest of the group (partic. the organiser's), or just because we ran out of time to book more speakers, I don't know. But I was sad that we didn't get to hear more from such an articulate authority on such a very interesting subject.

Highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 5 Jan 2013
By 
Alan Frew - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Still reading this but the story so far is just great. Full of interesting facts and corrections to many historic myths.Covers just enough detail to satisfy most readers, but then provides references for those who want to go off and get the details down some historic avenue. It is facinating reading how religion and science have interacted over the centuries as well as the gradual evolution scientific knowledge and where religion has both hindered and helped its progress.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars A history of science from ancient Greece to Galileo, 14 Oct 2012
By 
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (Paperback)
God's Philosophers: How the Medieval world laid the foundations of modern science, by James Hannam, Icon Books, London, 2009, 448 ff. [U.S. title is `The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages launched the scientific revolution', Regnery Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2011]

James Hannam is a graduate in physics and the history and philosophy of science. He has written here a book with a great deal of detail about the contribution to science made by minor figures in the Catholic Church during the fifteen hundred years before the Renaissance. On page 2 he criticizes those authors of the past couple of decades who represented the medieval period as the Dark Ages, `a period of `intellectual stagnation''. It seems obvious from the start that the author has a sub-plot the aim of which is to counter those who claim that the Catholic Church did so much since its inception to suppress the expansion of knowledge. Significantly, the American title of the book introduces the words `Genesis' and `Christian' and is published by the same publisher who gave us `How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization'.

I have read quite widely myself about the early history of science, but I still found details in this book of many people I had never heard of: still, having said that, I cannot say that many of these individuals provided information or even inspiration that seemed to me to be of any great value in contributing to the true development of science within the Renaissance. Of course there were outstanding individuals whose contributions we could not have done without - the founder of algebra, al-Khwarismi, for example, though Hannam says that the `originality of his work is disputed'. I found no mention of figures like Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa or Michael Scot who, through the good offices of Frederick II of Prussia, did so much to bring translations of Arabic and Hebrew texts created in al-Andalus to the attention of the Christian west. These Jewish and Islamic contributions are scarcely mentioned here.

The facts that Copernicus took his idea of a heliocentric universe from the Greek mathematician and astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, and that Dalton a few centuries later expanded on the ideas of the Greek atomists Leucippus and Democritus for his 19th century atomic theory are well established. Our indebtedness to Greek philosophers is unquestioned. But equally well established is the fact that the medieval Catholic Church did a great deal to suppress any knowledge that was not in line with its dogma. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake by the Church for suggesting that the sun was a star and that there were many other such stars in the universe. Galileo was kept under house arrest and lucky to escape execution by the Church for his astronomical studies. Copernicus died a natural death before publication of his heliocentric theory. These are the facts about the Christian Middle Ages. But for Hannam's clear bias in interpretation about the role of the Catholic Church I would have given this book a 5* rating. The presentation of the facts, printed is large type-face, is clear and the research seems to be thorough and detailed. Because of the size and detail in the book, it needs to be digested slowly. There are occasional illustrations and nearly one-quarter of the book at the end is taken up with copious Notes, an extensive Bibliography and a good Index.

The Medieval Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Medieval Period (The Great Theologians)
The Ornament Of The World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars God's Advocate, 1 July 2012
This review is from: God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (Paperback)
For several centuries when someone was being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church an official, commonly referred to as the Devil's Advocate, was charged with presenting the case against canonization. (The office of "Promoter of the Faith" no longer exists though individuals can give evidence in a case, e.g. Christopher Hitchens testified in the case of Mother Teresa).
In God's Philosophers author James Hannam takes on the less well known role of God's Advocate to argue for the book's subtitle - How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.
While the book's timeline covers the period 406 to 1642 the great bulk of the work deals with the latter half of that period, if for no other reason than that there wasn't too much to write about in the first half.
Hannam writes to argue against those who contend that "there was no science worth mentioning in the Middle Ages," and/or that "the Church held back what meagre advances were made." This is a worthwhile objective as one encounters writers and program-makers who, in order to show that they abdure, curse and detest the heresy of Eurocentrism, stray (stride?) into antiEuropecentrism. This politically correct version might be caricatured as follows - birth of science in ancient Greece/a thousand years of a medieval Christian Dark Age/Greek ideas developed during an Islamic Golden Age/during the Renaissance Europe somehow gets its act together thanks to translations from Arabic and the arrival of Chinese inventions/Europe then has a Scientific Revolution. (This denigration of Latin Christendom is not new, going back to at least Francis Bacon -the statesman not the painter).
Hannam effectively and persuasively argues the case for the contribution made by medieval Europeans. He writes in a narrative style introducing an often colourful cast of characters. The work is not original, nor does it claim to be. It is not textbook-like work like Lindberg's The Beginnings of Western Science, but has plenty of notes and a bibliography. The writing is clear if unspectacular, though I did like the heading "Giordano Bruno: Martyr for Magic".
In his conclusion Hannam explains why he doesn't use the word scientist to describe any of his subjects - because he is describing the gestation of modern science and that there could be no scientists before there was modern science. (That having been said I think most of us would describe Kepler and Galileo as scientists). He goes on to list what he regards as the four cornerstones of science laid down during the medieval period; institutional (the universities), technological (increases in agricultural production giving a base for the High Middle Ages and advances in glass and clock making that had more direct effects), metaphysical (the belief the universe was the rational creation of a Creator whose workings could be studied by men) and theoretical (e.g. Buridan developing the theory of impetus, Bradwardine and the Merton Calculators developing the mean speed theorem).
I think it is a fair criticism that Hannam is overly-sympathetic to the institutional medieval church and the work of the inquisitors. However, while acting as God's Advocate, he never sails into Gavin Menzies' waters.
I found the book educational e.g. I never knew that the medieval church allowed dissections nor had I heard of Domingo de Soto and people who had been but names to me such as Buridan and Bradwardine had their importance explained to me.
I would heartily recommend this book to the general reader and to two groups in particular. Firstly to those whose sympathies lie with Hannam but who lack the ammunition to back up their beliefs. Secondly, I would recommend it to those who hold a largely negative view of medieval Christendom but who also have an open mind that they are willing to change.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not enough science history, 4 Aug 2010
By 
M. F. Cayley (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (Paperback)
This is a very readable overview of the the development of scientific thinking, and attitudes to science, in the medieval period, with biographical information about some of the leading figures. It is a sad reflection on modern education that the author has clearly felt he could assume no significant knowledge of the history of the period, and therefore some of the book is taken up with brief accounts of the relevant historical background. The last few chapters are about the Renaissance rather than the Middle Ages.

The author's central thesis - that the Middle Ages were a period when scientific thinking advanced substantially, and that the Church was relatively tolerant of new scientific thinking - is clearly correct. I had expected quite a lot more detail about the scientific advances of the period (the surviving sources give plenty of scope for this), but they are treated for the most part fairly cursorily. I also feel James Hannam is rather Eurocentric, understating the extent to which European science and technology borrowed from other cultures, especially the Arab world.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars But was medieval science any good?, 23 Dec 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (Paperback)
This is a brilliant book, written with such pellucid clarity that it almost had me believing that I can tell the difference between a nominalist and a realist or a Thomist and a Neo-platonist.

The author shows beyond doubt that the age was not one of monolithic Catholic obscurantism but a period of intense reflection and diverse speculation.

So far I agree with previous reviewers. Let's put in a few small caveats. It's remarkable that the the great university foundations, with the exception of Paris, such as Toledo, Bologna, Padua, Oxford, Heidelberg were far from the political centre. As for Cluny, it was so deep in La France Profonde as to be nearly underground. One suspects that the scholars of the age were most appreciated when they were out of sight. The book barely mentions the great inventions of the period - the mills, spectacles, glass, the compass, the horse collar - which were made by more practical men who have left no written trace.

Now for the big caveat. The Subtitle, "how the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science". Is it true?

No it isn't. You can't cure people with a hunoral theory of medicine. Your satnav will not work based on medieval astronomy. Aristotle's "Physics" is completely useless to an engineer. Medieval scientific theories had to be junked in their entirety in order to usher in the modern age where, you know, stuff does what it's supposed to, the pills work, you get where you meant to go, etc.

The author seems to acknowledge this difficulty as the timeline extends all the way up to Galileo and Newton. Were they medieval? Well, take your pick - the Black Death, the Fall of Constantinople, the Reformation - all are to me candidates for closure of the medieval period. Or maybe we should extend it to the foundation of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (1849, still extant with taxpayer money)? But if medievalism means anything, it means a period in history, and the ideas were simply wrong. They still flourish, of course: go into any alternative bookshop and browse.

Brilliant book, with much to argue with. (My definition of a good book!) I recommend as a companion volume Peter Spufford's The Merchant in Medieval Europe.
Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science
7.69
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews