Ideas: A history from fire to Freud Hardcover – 12 May 2005
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The history of ideas deserves treatment on this scale. (FELIPE FERNANDEZ ARMESTO EVENING STANDARD)
It would be a dull reader that failed to be stimulated either by the questions it raises or by the answers it gives to all sorts of questions that one would never have thought of asking. (NOEL MALCOLM SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)
"In Ideas, Watson gives us an astonishing overview of human intellectual development which covers everything... In a book of such vast scope, a reader could easily get lost, but the narrative has a powerful momentum...For those who want something more engaging than the dreary Plato to Nato narrative that dominates conventional histories of ideas, this wide range of reference will be invaluable" (JOHN GRAY NEW STATESMAN)
This lively book may stimulate the intellectually curious as they seek to understand the history of the mind. (THE TIMES)
A highly ambitious and lucid history of ideas from the very earliest times to the present day.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
(i) Watson's knowledge of philosophy is patchy at best; for example saying, p.490 of my edition, that it was not clear why Descartes included appendices on meteors and dioptrics to his "Discourse on the Method". Well, I'm afraid it is clear to anyone who knows anything about Descartes: it was precisely as a demonstration of how his method could be applied, as his objective was to rebuild the sciences from scratch, rather than to construct a system of philosophy as Watson seems to believe. If you don't understand this you don't understand anything about Descartes' project. It seems to me here as elsewhere that Watson has leaned heavily on secondary literature rather than first-hand acquaintance with the sources which in this case are easy to read and would have enlightened him on this point.
(ii) what he does know is very much twisted to suit his objectives. For example, he gives a very biaised and rather dismissive account of Plato's thought, portraying it as "mysticism" when Plato was obviously more of a rationalist than a mystic.Read more ›
The author seems to have read all of the books I would have wanted to read, had I had the time and the opportunity, and to have built the most prodigious card-filing system, because this book is stuffed with facts (for instance, did you know why a circle has 360 degrees?).
As the title suggests, the book ends at the beginning of the 20th Century, where the author's history of ideas in the 20th Century begins (A Terrible Beauty: the People and Ideas that Shaped the Modern Mind [American edition: The Modern Mind]).
Of course, in a book of 800 pages which covers three million years, there is much that is touched on lightly: you will have to consult the references to go into depth. But this book will tell you where to start, and it puts thinkers into context with each other. It's a book that I will give as a Christmas present to bright teenagers, and will keep handy for consulting for the rest of my life.
Also, Watson's knowledge of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH - SAW)'s biography is a bit sketchy and shallow in that it fails to mention the fact that the most authentic & reliable is the traditionalist account by Ibn Ishaq: "The Life of Muhammad Apostle of Allah (updated/edited) by Ibn Hisham. He (Watson), ironically, mentions a Nestorian Christian from al-Hirah (born over one hundred years after Ibn Ishaq - whose grandfather was a Christian) was also called (Hunayn) Ibn Ishaq who became known among the Arabs as the "Sheikh of the translators". He mastered four languages: Arabic, Syriac, Greek and Persian!
Apart from some of these obvious shortcomings, I found the book to be very pro-atheistic because it shows religion (faith) as being closely intertwined and yet apparently these faiths are mutually incompatible.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I borrowed this book from a friend and enjoyed it so much because it was very instructive as to why things are as they are, and were as they were ;). Read morePublished 24 months ago by sean89928
Peter Coville's review (q.v.) is much more interesting and detailed than anything I want to attempt here. Read morePublished on 27 Jun. 2014 by Giles Penfold
Very frustrating book full of interesting stuff but written by a woolly minded humanities 'intellectual' so it is poorly organised, rambling and difficult to read. Read morePublished on 25 Feb. 2014 by TalkingMammal
Super interesting, extremely well written. A great survey of ideas up until around 1900 - not sure if Watson has a book covering the 20th century, but I would definitely buy it if... Read morePublished on 10 Jan. 2014 by Patrick
I own the paperback version and the publishers have produced a joyous book to hold in your hands and to read. Most big books have a squashed feel. Read morePublished on 2 Dec. 2013 by a badly positioned hole near centre of chariot wheel
I suspect that this book has had more impact on my life than any other I've ever read. I came across it by chance a few years ago and read it from cover to cover. Read morePublished on 26 Nov. 2010 by stilllearning
The mind boggles at the amount of reading Peter Watson must have done before he embarked on writing this book. Read morePublished on 16 Aug. 2009 by Hugo Perks