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Bomb, Book & Compass: Joseph Needham & the Great Secrets of China
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Bomb, Book & Compass: Joseph Needham & the Great Secrets of China

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  69 ratings  ·  18 reviews
The seventeenth-century philosopher-statesman Francis Bacon famously declared that nothing had changed the world more profoundly than three great inventions: gunpowder, printing and the compass. What he didn't know was that the Chinese had been successfully using all three long before the West ever 'invented' them. And yet it was another 300 years before a remarkable man c ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published 2008 by Viking Books (first published January 1st 2000)
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Andrew Georgiadis
Also known as "The Man Who Loved China" in American editions (because our versions are necessarily dumbed-down), this is the story of Joseph Needham's quest to understand an Eastern culture to which he was introduced in adulthood. A professor of chemistry and one with no official qualifications to undertake a work of rigorous history, he embarked on one of the most ambitious, lengthy, and meticulously researched pieces of scholarship in human history. At twenty-eight volumes and still in print, ...more
Vesna
A book about a man that wrote a book doesn't exactly sound like a formula for an entertaining work but Winchester pulls it off. It tells the story of Joseph Needham who spent his 90something years writing the definitive history of Science & Civilisation in China which he typed with 2 fingers. While it does read like a pop history book and has been consequently criticised on those grounds, it does filter a huge amount of information to a layman like myself. The fact remains that here is the s ...more
Charles
A well written account of a truly astonishing man's life. Joseph Needham's intellectual curiosity and zest for life is infectious, even as his story is told through a third party. After making momentous achievements as a young man at Cambridge, Needham falls in love with China and sets about dedicatedly learning the language and culture that would shape his future.

Sent to China in 1943 he documents extraordinary scientific and historical finds, that would later make up his highly acclaimed publ
...more
Andrew
Fascinating character but largely mediocre book.

Joseph Needham was clearly an incredibly insightful thinker with the child-like curiosity and enthusiasm of a great scientist. His early contributions to embryology rapidly elevated him to the Royal Society and election to a college in Cambridge. Then dalliance and war curiously morphed him into one of our foremost historians of Chinese science despite having no academic training in either Oriental Studies or History. Unlikely now, but proof that e
...more
Saki Takasu
This is a biography about a unique Cambridge scholar who recorded all the great inventions by the Chinese - including bombs, books, and compasses. This was revolutionary in a sense that he changed the world's view of China as a backward nation - in fact, it was far more advanced than others in terms of volumes and frequencies of innovation! However, the more intriguing part of this book is how Joseph Needham himself is an eclectic character who becomes intertwined with the politics of the time. ...more
Helen
I only started this book because I saw Simon Winchester as a banquet speaker at the New England Library Association Conference in 2009. He made the subject matter so compelling that I had to read the book, even if I had no previous interest in the subject matter whatsoever. The book was so successful, now I want to read the whole 30+ volumes of "Science and Civilization in China." There are so many poorly written, dull as dirt non-fiction books that when you find a historian who also happens to ...more
Jenny
It's definitely an encouraging and proud experience for a Chinese to read this book and it is indeed amazing to recount the effort and achievements that Joseph Needham made on this path. It was a very eventful period of China's contemporary history to read about too.

However I was actually expecting, very curiously, to read the final answer that Joseph Needham, or the author of the book, gave or could give to the ultimate question he raised in the beginning. Though the author did explain a little
...more
Garth
A well-written biography of Joseph Needham, who traced the history of science in China and found a multitude of "firsts" in that country before scientific endevour seemed to suddenly stop in the 1600's, and much of the knowledge was "lost" until it was again developed (and claimed) in the West.
Needham was a brilliant but deeply flawed man, who found it possible to rationalise the excesses of Mao Zedong's communist party until the 1970's - despite the deaths of tens of millions of citizens up to
...more
Mark Terry
Winchester tells a compelling story of incredible curiosity. Joseph Needham, a renowned biochemist, discovers a deep connection with the history of Chinese science and technology. Despite the lack of the usual academic qualifications, he (nearly) single-handedly researches and writes the definitive (more than twenty volumes) work on the subject. In typical Winchester fashion, we learn about chinese history, technology, the war between China and Japan in WWII and Cambridge.
Jo
If you are interested in China and History with a whole lot of adventure I highly recommend this book. I was amazed at what Joseph Needham acheived in his life time, a real inspiration.
Anna
Fascinating man, elegantly written. Winchester could turn turnips into treasure with his deft hand. Joseph Needham should be a household name.
Charles
Magnificent history of Joseph Needham and the story of his research into China's long history as a scientific nation. Highly recommended reading.
Alice
Another solid effort from Simon Winchester
Dimitri
China adalah sebuah daratan yang memiliki sejarah yang panjang, terutama dalam hal perkembangan sains dan teknologi. Banyak hal yang diklaim sebagai penemuan bangsa Barat (Eropa / Amerika) yang sebenarnya sudah dirintis oleh masyarakat daratan China. Mungkin itulah kenapa ada hadis dari Nabi umat Muslim "carilah ilmu hingga ke negeri China". yang Beliau maksud adalah China pada masa kejayaan teknologinya, sebelum datangnya era China Komunis.

Interaksi yang lebih intens antara China dengan dunia B
...more
John Irving
Extraordinary life of a Cambridge Don and a contemporary of Rewi Alley when Chine was re-emerging
David
Mar 19, 2012 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: intelligent people, enquiring minds
This is another wonderful book by Simon Winchester. China is shown to be a land of great creativity and inquiring minds.
This book could serve to many like myself who are woefully ignorant about China.
I was fortunate to attend a lecture by Mr Winchester at Mosman Library where he discussed the origins of this book and the subjects in it. Inspiring and challenging.
David
A good, condensed, matter-of-fact account of Joseph Needham's life and achievements with a useful appendix of major Chinese scientific inventions from way back. Needham is yet another example of a man who history treats much better than many of his contemporaries did, as is true for many mavericks - and Needham was unusual, to say the least.
Michael
The book is written off the mill but otherwise a good introduction for someone who has never heard of Joseph Needham, the (famous) Needham-question, or that China invented everything hundreds of years before the West did.
MaryG2E
MaryG2E marked it as to-read
Nov 30, 2014
Sue
Sue marked it as to-read
Oct 09, 2014
Bachtiar Noer
Bachtiar Noer marked it as to-read
Jun 27, 2014
Jeremy Daalder
Jeremy Daalder marked it as to-read
Jun 09, 2014
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Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel and his articles appear in several travel publi ...more
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