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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

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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


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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars But was medieval science any good?, 23 Dec 2010
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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
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38 of 67 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Casuistry and irrelevance but an illuminating read, 3 Nov 2009
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There can be little doubt that modern science was built, and continues to be built, on the work that went before it. This is a claim that can be made even of new ways of thinking that unify what were once thought of as separate areas of investigation into a unified whole, but this book wishes to go further. (p 193) 'It is hard to imagine how any philosophy at all would have taken place if the Church-sponsored universities had not provided a home for it.' This claim could only be made by a Christian apologist as it is obvious that philosophy is in no way purely a preserve of Christianity. Without any Christians on the planet, we Homo sapiens had become quite adept at philosophy and as Hannam points out, the Church's adoption of Aristotle and later Plato may have helped the Church in enforcing their ridiculous doctrines (such as the 1277 Condemnations, which you were not allowed to 'hear', let alone utter - on fear of death) whilst casting aside Aristarchus (Greek heliocentrism), Democritus (Greek atomism) and anyone else (Epicurus, Cicero etc.) who dared to contradict Catholic Orthodoxy.

Why should people not be allowed to think, or speak their minds without an unaccountable authority chiming in to tell them what is right or wrong? If one wanted to discuss the immortal soul, you could be persecuted for heresy for as Hannam points out (p125) 'In an effort to reassure Christian opinion, the Church had already declared that the soul was indeed immortal in 1513.' To contradict this is heresy. On what authority does the Church think that it can proclaim such and furthermore, why should people not be allowed to speculate?

In some of his arguments, Hannam wants to have his cake and eat it. Hannam wants to protect the name of medieval medicine (p250) 'Meticulous empirical examination was standard practice in Greek and medieval medicine' whilst also covering himself by admitting (p264) 'Thus the history of medicine until the mid-nineteenth century, with the significant exception of the smallpox vaccination, is a history of failure.'

Furthermore, Hannam wishes to pander to Christians wanting to feel more at home with their churches 'uneven' histories - on Democritian atomism he says (p193) 'Clearly this was a clear-cut case of theological orthodoxy curtailing philosophical enquiry. But this happened so rarely that we cannot maintain that the Church held back science in general.' This is quite a statement from someone who has written a whole book detailing that scientific advances have always been regarded as at least being circumspect by the Church, but has often killed people whose scientific ideas were as radical as their theological opinions, and stated that their theological perspective is reason enough to kill them. Hannam gives a helping hand to service our opinions by suggesting that Giordano Bruno was obnoxious and Micheal Servetus held views that people were unsympathetic to. Oh dear. He goes on to suggest that (p224) 'Not all Protestants agree with this vicious action.' (He [Servetus] was burned at the stake.) I would be surprised if 1 in 1000 'Protestants' agree with this hideous form of depravity.

There are a sheer plethora of fallacies in this book, but some of the worst comments are horrifying. That the list of Giordano Bruno's heretical statements (for which he was murdered) could not have included a heliocentric system or an infinite universe is, according to Hannam, impossible. Why? Because Copernicanism was not declared a heresy until 1616! Need we say more? This undermines Hannam's thesis that the Church never murdered anyone for science, only heresy, when the Church considers itself fit to proclaim scientific theories as heretical.

This book is certainly an eye-opener. Hannam's writing is good enough to sustain the 350 pages of text and offers a fascinating insight to a mind radically different from my own. I, for one, find it much easier to accept that Kepler 'cracked the mystery of the planet's movements' because of his tenacity, which he also applied to his religious ideas - for Hannam, he states that 'it remains true that Kepler cracked the mystery of the planets movements BECAUSE of his faith in God's creative powers.' (p292). What unmitigated nonsense.

For all it's faults, this is still a reasonable book, and entertainingly written. This is a very important part of our history and there are a lot of lessons to be learned from it. We now live in a time where, fortunately, we have a more civilised view of human rights from which we all benefit.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars book review, 21 Sep 2009
ASIN:1848310706 God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science]]
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