Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
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Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud

4.33 of 5 stars 4.33  ·  rating details  ·  421 ratings  ·  57 reviews
In this hugely ambitious and stimulating book, Peter Watson describes the history of ideas, from deep antiquity to the present day, leading to a new way of understanding our world and ourselves.

The narrative begins nearly two million years ago with the invention of hand-axes and explores how some of our most cherished notions might have originated before humans had languag...more
Hardcover, 848 pages
Published August 30th 2005 by Harper (first published May 12th 2005)
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Crawford
I have finally finished this tome. Over the 18-months it took to read I have from time to time added précis to this review, but now I have finished I have removed them. This book is a thousand pages of dense reading and nothing best summarizes its magnificence than the quotations from the fronts-piece:

There are no whole truths;.
All truths are half-truths.
It is trying to treat them as
Whole truths that plays the devil.
(Alfred North Whitehead, Dialogues. 1953.)

While it may be hard to live with gene...more
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Ideas by Peter Watson

Wow! It doesn't get more ambitious than this. This is a book about the history of ideas. How can anyone tackle such an ambitious topic in one book? Well, somehow someway Peter Watson does exactly that. The author jumps from one interesting topic to another with mastery: language, science, weaponry, religion, society, economics, inventions, music...

It was an investment in knowledge. An investment that pays off at the end. I can't remember the last time, I've learned so much...more
Vandita
What a tome ! Weight wise, content wise, scope wise and depth wise. I don't remember when was last that I read a book which had so much to offer.. each page crammed with insights, facts, analysis that reading 3 pages in one go satiates the mind. The book of 'ideas' defines the 'ideas' since the birth of mankind and civilisation, as broadly as one can: as the sub title says ' a history of thought and invention, from fire to freud'.

The sheer expanse of ideas explored and the depth of this explora...more
Todd Nemet
Second review (finished 1/27/2013)

I read this book off and on during 2012 and the first part of 2013. It was even better the second time I read it.

March-ish I took a few days off from life and checked into a spa in Sonoma, and this was the only book I brought to read in between massages and soaking in spring water. Come to think of it, this is probably the one book I would bring to a desert island if I had to limit it to one book.

Then October-ish I picked it up again and started re-reading the s...more
umberto
This book looked a bit too academic for me when I first saw some copies sold in various bookstores in Bangkok some years ago. Then I decided to read it because of its title concerned with 'A History from Fire to Freud', therefore, I think I should know and understand more from what Peter Watson searched and wrote for his readers to try reading on our intellectual developments in the East and the West.

I like this part in the Author's Note (p. xix):
In a work such as Ideas it is comforting to thi...more
Geertvanderzalm
Took me a long time to get through this book, but it gives a very thorough account of the history of the world by considering the history of ideas and the human intellectual development.

If you're just interested in world history, then Guns, Germs and Steel might be a better start. If you want to have a full account of how human thought and culture developed, this is an excellent book.
Pauline
Oct 12, 2011 Pauline is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Have made it to part two and now on chapter five, 'Sacrifice, Soul, Saviour: the spritual breakthrough'. This book reminds me of everything I loved about uni when I was seventeen. I'm being escorted through the millenia by a gentleman and a scholar, getting a little window into the mysteries of how we came to be who we are today, and nourishing a little dream of academia.
Serina
May 14, 2013 Serina marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Note: Mr. Rupprecht is reading this.
Sanjay C.
An unbiased appreciation of all cultures!

Beginning from around 2 million years ago, Watson takes us through a journey that explores the origins of world-changing ideas. This book is a breath of fresh air from the usually parochial and Eurocentric books that most historians have been presenting.

Watson presents a more truthful perspective and brings to light the very important ideas that have emerged from the East as well as the West. He spends considerable time on the philosophies of India and th...more
Cara
I'm sure even 700+ pages on the history of human ideas does not complete the entire picture, but this book does a fantastic job of putting civilization in perspective. Ideas is full of fantastic conversation material, and illustrates history not just by highlighting particular dates and wars, but by explaining the various sea changes along the timeline of human progress. While reading, I felt strangely connected to my fellow humans with the sense that 'we're all in this together' - and also real...more
Al Bità
This is a huge book (over 1000 pages of text, not including the endnotes and indexes) dealing with one of the biggest subjects of all: the evolution of Human Ideas throughout the ages up to the 19th century CE. This might tend to put one off; but one should not succumb to this feeling.

This is a masterwork of its type. The range is astonishingly extensive, and surprisingly comprehensive; the writing style easy and accessible. Watson seems to have provided us with an exhaustive compilation of just...more
Ron
For me, the most important aspect of these "survey" type books is in the organization. When I accept as reasonable the organizing principles, I tend, generally speaking, to process the material much more efficiently and enjoyably. In this case, I had a little trouble buying into the notion of the building a system of thought around the three ideas of the soul, Europe and the experiment. As a result, I found parts of this book to be a bit of a slog. The flip side of this unfamiliar structure is t...more
David
A good survey with some of the latest data and analysis. Not a bad book all-in-all but not enlightening...I've read most of this in other books over the years...but this is a survey piece so that should be expected. I was never, genuinely, engaged by the book but don't have anything bad to say about it. I believe this is a book for younger readers (20 somethings) that have not spent a lifetime reading. For them there would lots of interesting directions to pursue in the future but for those, suc...more
umberto
This book looked a bit too academic for me when I first saw some copies sold in various bookstores in Bangkok some years ago. Then I decided to read it because of its title concerned with 'A History from Fire to Freud', therefore, I think I should know and understand more from what Peter Watson searched and wrote for his readers to try reading on our intellectual developments in the East and the West.

I like this part in the Author's Note (p. xix):
In a work such as Ideas it is comforting to thi...more
Bchamp
If someone asked me what the greatest book I've ever read was, I'd tell them I didn't want to answer that question, but if pressed, this would be it. Boorstin's The Discoverers got me interested in what they call 'Intellectual History', but this book cemented it as my number one sub-field of history. I will now read any book I find described as such, and I have Peter Watson to blame.thank.
Let me put it another way: an ex-girlfriend got this book for me as a christmas gift. It was probably the be...more
Andrew
This is a solid brick of a book with a slightly ambitious scope - the history of thought and invention from fire to freud. A book like this can only be "magesterial" or "annoyingly pretentious and unfocused." After perusing the intro and a few selected chapters (the book lends itself well to jumping around), I am definitely leaning towards the former (despite having to cope with a growing feeling of insignificance and inferiority next to Watson's large brain). Watson writes nicely, and effortles...more
David
I borrowed this book from the library as an e-book. Much of what I read in it varied from interesting to fascinating. It was a slow read partly because of the length. But I did have trouble following the flow as the general impression for me was that it jumped around. It was generally chronological and within any particular sub-topic it gave me plenty of things to think about in the evolution of ideas. Purely for the material I would give it 5 stars but I had to check it outat least five times f...more
Richard Angeli
I've never been big on reading history, but this book is different. Well documented with the best current sources from many different disciplines. Where there are differing theories about a given topic The book explains them, points out the dominant ones, and leaves the conclusions to the reader.
I read the book cover to cover. I keep a copy on my current e reader to refer back to when a particular political, philosophical, or theological discussion comes up and triggers a new thought.
I also pur...more
Richard
My understanding of human social structures culture and beliefs expanded greatly while reading this book.

I enjoyed the style of Watson's writing. I was engaged from the start and had difficulty puting the book down. A key to the gripping accessibility, for me, was the way he presents interesting information with succinct flows of logic and a neutral perspective.

Some of the understandings I gained from this book have changed my life. I am extremely grateful for it and celebrate it.

I recommend re...more
Carlos Vazquez
Obra colosal que sin duda debió requerir buena parte de su vida al autor, pues recoge civilización humana e historia, no con un gran detalle, pero sí con gran claridad, lo que en obras españolas se echa de menos como se ve en la irregular y farragosa enciclopedia Espasa. Hoy, algunas partes serían debatibles, pero quizá no tantas, lo cual es un mérito dado cómo avanza la ciencia, la Antropología y las ideas, que también quedan atrasadas. Una obra muy buena aun contando con mucha ayuda, y que val...more
Lola Haskins


In spite of its writing style, which is so academic that I have to underline or highlight to keep myself paying attention, this is a truly exciting book, as ambitious as the title implies.

I read it in bursts --between fiction and poetry reads--because it's too heavy to retain the information if I put in long stretches.

If you liked, you could read just the parts that interested you-- though to some extent each chapter builds on the one before.

mahatma
kadang-kadang, perlu juga buku yang 'ensiklopedik' yang ngumpulin banyak tema dalam satu jilid kayak buku ini.
sebagaimana judulnya -IDEAS- buku ini emang ngumpulin berbagai macam cara berpikir dan buah pikiran manusia sepanjang sejarah.
misalnya, tentang gagasan mengenai 'angka' dan 'aksara', tentang 'eropa', tentang 'secular', idea ttg 'individu', tentang 'experiment', 'university' dsb.
asyik dan seneng ajah...
Willy
I'm on page 104 ( 774 to go ).
The volume of presented facts is truly impressive. So far, the author has left me clueless on insight where those ideas came from.
Perhaps this will get better when more recent history is covered.

I'm on page 180 now ( 692 to go ).
It does indeed get better. The amount of facts is lower, or at least increasingly comprehensable.

Left India on page 363. Cruising through China.
Alfonso
Ambicioso ensayo que no llega a germinar: este libro no es la historia de las ideas de la humanidad, sino de Peter Watson. Se trata de una exposición de las principales corrientes de pensamiento de la humanidad, desde un prisma progresista, nihilista, antioccidental y anglocéntrico. No obstante, el estilo es brillante: de un párrafo a otro, el fluir del texto es increíble, a pesar de sus más de mil páginas.
Jacopo
Too professoral, too Anglosaxon, not clear enough,
Stops at Freud, ... Missing the nuclear energy/bomb, DNA & the gene, Radio& Tv, phone, Internet, Space conquest, globalisation,...
On the historic side, Africa is almost never mentionned and no trace of native north or south american civilizations: incas, atztecs, mayas, ...

My advice: change the title!
Jason ("jcreed")
Man I could just read Peter Watson forever. I'm not really sure if everything in here is 100% accurate (since my truth-bendy-o-meter starts pinging just a touch when he talks about things I actually know a little about, like linguistics) but he's got a great sense of sweeping narrative. Also you can't beat his little diatribe about Freud at the end.
Paul
For me, a mammoth read. I needed hours a day for two weeks, but it was well worth the effort. I'd recommend that the pre-history section be skimmed unless it's of special interest to a reader, but from the Golden Age of Greece to the twentieth century I didn't want to skip a page, and there are over 700 of them!
Elizabeth
What an accomplishment this book is! This collection of so much information on so many topics and covering so many centuries is daunting to say the least. But Peter Watson succeeds in doing just that, while also making the book not only readable, but enjoyable. Highly Recommended.
Sarahandus
I think this should be a book to dip into. I found the first chapters absolutely fascinating, but the later chapters on how religion changed the thinking got a little convoluted.
Taking it in smaller bites gives you time to think about the changing way of living and thinking.
Romina Kuko
This book is so full of info, that you have to keep a catalogue and then a notebook for the catalogue in order to orderly remember details. It's like Watson has created compressed timeline of the A-ha's of the human race. Lovely, appart from overwhelming :)
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11307
Education: educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome.

Deputy editor of New Society.

Part of the 'Insight' team of The Sunday Times for four years.

New York correspondent of The Times.

Has written for the Observer, The New York Times, Punch and The Spectator.

Author of thirteen books.

Presented several television programs about the arts.

Research Associate at the McDonald Institute for Archa...more
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