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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

4.32 of 5 stars 4.32  ·  rating details  ·  549 ratings  ·  63 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
Hardcover, 848 pages
Published August 30th 2005 by Harper (first published May 12th 2005)
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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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
Das Buch ist flüssig zu lesen, wirkt selten fade und greift Eckpfeiler der Ideengeschichte heraus. Dabei ist das Buch jedoch eindeutig im "Westen" verankert, obwohl auch andere Kulturideen aufgegriffen werden.

Für einen Überflug über die Ideen der Weltgeschichte bietet das Buch einen sehr guten Einstieg und Impulse für viel weitern Lesestoff.
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
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
Macoco G.M.
Excelente libro para conocer la historia desde un punto de vista diferente. Aquí no se hablan de reyes ni de guerras sino de ideas y de cómo estas produjeron grandes avances o enromes catástrofes.
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
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
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
I'm only half-way through this book and it is absolutely amazing! It's so jam-packed with information I learn new things on every page if not a dozen new things I never knew about before! When I'm not reading it, I want to be reading it and just absorb all the information, knowledge and detail that is within. This is definitely a book that I will come back to time and time again throughout my life. I cannot give this book enough praise.
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
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
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.

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...
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.
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.
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.
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Peter Watson was educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome, and was awarded scholarships in Italy and the United States.

After a stint as Deputy Editor of New Society magazine, he was for four years part of the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team of investigative journalists. He wrote the daily Diary column of the London Times before becoming that paper’s New York correspondent. He returned t
More about Peter Watson...
The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities--From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums Landscape of Lies (Felony & Mayhem Mysteries) A Terrible Beauty: The People and Ideas That Shaped the Modern Mind: A History

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