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The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself (Knowledge Trilogy #1)

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  9,070 Ratings  ·  243 Reviews
An original history of man's greatest adventure: his search to discover the world around him.
Paperback, 745 pages
Published February 12th 1985 by Vintage (first published 1983)
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The Undiscovered Self by C.G. JungMartin Heidegger by Rüdiger SafranskiThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. KuhnNietzsche by Rüdiger SafranskiEinstein by Walter Isaacson
Scientists and Philosophers
12th out of 108 books — 169 voters
The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
247th out of 4,018 books — 5,882 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Charles Moody
May 15, 2016 Charles Moody rated it it was amazing
If you were going on a yearlong cruise and could take only one book, this might be my recommendation. I cannot imagine where else you could find, in a single volume, such a wealth of history organized so lucidly and written so engagingly. The title might suggest that it is the story of Columbus, Magellan, etc., and in part it is, but it is far more. It describes the step-by-step advances in human knowledge in many areas, as societies began to measure time, became determined to explore and map th ...more
Todd N
Jul 26, 2009 Todd N rated it it was amazing
It took me about six weeks to read this book because I wanted to take my time with it.

The Discoverers is a history of our attempt to understand the world and our place in it. This story of science and exploration is divided into these four books:

1. Time - how attempts to measure hours and years led to examination of the sky and development of increasingly complex machines
2. The Earth And The Seas - exploration of the globe over land and sea; the discovery of New World
3. Nature - Copernican sy
Miloš Kostić
Jul 17, 2016 Miloš Kostić rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Potrajalo je, ali je bilo vredno truda.
Sjajna knjiga, napisana izuzetnim, vrlo čitljivim, čak književnim stilom. Toliko pitko da može da se čita satima bez zamaranja, što je nekarakteristično za stručne knjige. A opet, obilje informacija nameće želju da se iz nje uči kao iz udžbenika.
Ovo Geopoetikino izdanje je štampano veoma sitnim slovima. A debela je! Izgubih oči.
Istorija nauke, više je istorija nego nauka. Bavi se uglavnom, ako ne i isključivo, onim otkrićima koja su promenila ljudsko shvata
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jan 06, 2009 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it really liked it
Three-and-a-half stars for the book itself, which presents the history of human thought in chapters that detail the world's greatest discoveries, scientists and thinkers from astronomy to geography to psychology to religion and dozens of other points in between.

I round my review up to four for the fact that my copy is dog-eared and falling apart because it was my late father's favourite book. He was an armchair traveller and pursuer of knowledge who was curtailed only by his life's circumstance
Jul 25, 2016 Max rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-history
This theme based history of how the modern world came to be is so much more engaging than the typical geopolitical event based history. Rather than learning about battles, kings and politicians we learn how ideas pursued by innovators shaped our culture. Boorstin shows us how these creative thinkers were helped or more often held back by political, religious and cultural forces and in turn how their ideas changed these forces. This wide ranging book begins with man’s first discovery, time, and f ...more
Nov 09, 2009 Ross rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favorite books. I bought it as an ‘airport’ book for a long flight in about 1985 and could not put it down. My old paper back , dog eared and extensively annotated finally fell apart earlier this year so I bought a second hand hard cover and went on annotating. I have read it three times from cover to cover and several more times in bits and pieces.
Boorstin documents in wonderful conversational and personal prose the historical process of discovery of the heavens , earth and
Sep 16, 2007 Eric rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who want perspective.
Shelves: history
I had no idea this Boorstin guy was well known when I stole the beat up old book from my family's bookshelf for my own perusal. I was pleasantly surprised the entire time, amazed that what I thought was a run of the mill shelf filler would be so consistently interesting an engaging. It's a neat book, one worth reading - it's been a while now and I don't remember most of what is in there, but I can tell you that I'll never think of clocks the same way again.
M.G. Bianco
May 27, 2013 M.G. Bianco rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Classical Conversations, for whom I tutor, uses this text for its 12th grade (Challenge IV program). There are two things I really like about this book.

1. It tells the history of scientists and discoverers in the form of a story. It draws you into the story and develops the same spirit of inquiry the discoverers themselves would have experienced as they set out to discover.

2. It is biased. I am so weary of history books that pretend to be unbiased when they aren't. This books is unabashedly bias
Sep 13, 2010 Jlawrence rated it really liked it
Good LORD it took me a long time to finish this book. Not because of the writing - Boorstin's good at relating history though clear, lively anecdotes. And it's long, but the delay was mostly because of the *size* - I have the 'deluxe illustrated edition' which is two hardback volumes filled with beautiful illustrations. I recommend this edition for the fantastic visual context it gives for the huge sweeps of history Boorstin surveys. I do not recommend this edition for its size & bulk, which ...more
Jan 29, 2009 Pablo added it
I enjoyed hearing about human ingenuity over the ages.
I particularly liked hearing about the mapping of the seas.
Points on a map, incrementally added over time, arrived at by
exceptional adventure/vision/luck/greed. Another interesting
theme was the transformation of old ideas to new; the
tenacity of tradition. The often mundane and sometimes
brutality of dogma. How a person forges a new path with
insight and research and encourages those two great tasks; yet,
his followers deify the thinker, create
Jul 30, 2010 Bruce rated it it was amazing

This is definitely a book to review while one is reading it. Boorstin has a sense of history as an unfolding story. The book is divided into many small sections, each having its own arc of significance with a beginning, middle and end. I read it almost every morning over breakfast. Never has a history text been so fascinating to me.

July 30, 2010: Finished! After a few pages every morning for about a year. This was indeed an adventure in reading. The final discoverers discussed by Boorstin, Farad
Stuart Lutzenhiser
Aug 31, 2011 Stuart Lutzenhiser rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin, published in 1985, is a solid, thoroughly researched and well documented series of 82 essays on the history of human discovery. Some of these discoveries are physical, such as the New World or the trade route around Africa. Some of the discoveries are scientific such as the Calculus, the atom, or Evolution. For me, the book has two aspects that set it well above similar works on scientific history. That is, an exploration of how we discovered things that one m ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
The book is a history of exploration both geographic and intellectual. It starts with early civilization and progresses through the Greeks and Romans and the Medieval world and the age of exploration. It spends time on the scientific revolution of Copernicus through Newton, it goes into Darwin and Lyell. It covers the intellectuals and explorers that any educated person in the mid to late 20th century was expected to be familiar with. Strangely it didn't have very much material on 20th century d ...more
Chelsea Ursaner
Jul 13, 2015 Chelsea Ursaner rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was a MASSIVE undertaking by Boorstin and apparently is part of a trilogy. On the whole, I really enjoyed it. As others have noted, it is a good historical overview starting from the discovery of the ~365 day solar year by the Egyptians and up to the atom. I was drawn to it because I love biographies and this was sort of a compilation. My favorite discoverer was probably Keynes. I may be be experiencing a bit of a recency bias since he was at the end of the book but he was such a well- ...more
I'm always interested and also usually a little perplexed by some of the comments given to a book such as this one. 'It was heavy.' 'Very dense and very long.' or 'I stuck with it and am glad I finally finished it.'

Ok, that's the way some folks are, and that's fine, but in my view this just isn't the start-at-page-one-and-stick-with-it-to-page-716 kind of book. It's a book to keep handy on a shelf and dip into whenever and for whatever reason. It doesn't have a beginning, middle and end, just a
Aaron Arnold
Aug 03, 2012 Aaron Arnold rated it it was amazing
The Discoverers is a genial, readable, welcome overview of some of the major scientific discoveries in human history, linked together by theme, and a good candidate for "best book that should have been one of my textbooks in high school but inexplicably wasn't". Boorstin is apparently a generally strong historian, having written several other acclaimed works like the 1974 History Pulitzer winner The Americans, and if that one was anything like this it should be a great read. The Discoverers take ...more
Oct 22, 2008 Phoebe rated it it was ok
While Boorstin identifies the aspects of human culture and interaction that define us over time - our self-created myths - with extraordinary insight and impressive documentation (hey, with the Library of Congress at your feet, research is the easy part) he really misses the point on this one.

In the opening paragraphs of the very first chapter, Boorstin celebrates the destruction of the moon as time-teller, essentially invalidating the entire process of human thought and universe understanding u
Mar 17, 2016 Jim marked it as to-read
Shelves: history
hmmm. do I still own this.....
Todd Stockslager
Aug 22, 2016 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review title: What we know about the world we created

Boorstin was the Librarian of Congress when he wrote the pair of books that were huge bestsellers, sat on many family bookshelves, and were eventually sold or given away so are widely available on the used book market. The Discoverers was followed by The Creators which documented the history of what we created (religion, art, drama, literature) about the world we know. I found The Creators more satisfying because surprisingly it is easier to d
Mark Anderson
Jan 07, 2016 Mark Anderson rated it it was amazing
This is a general history of science and discovery. I'm not sure if a better general popular history on this subject has been written since this was first published. An educated person should be familiar with everything discussed in this book; there may be other ways of getting this information, but Boorstin is very helpful as a starting point.

After my very old copy of the "The New Oxford Annotated Bible" I'd expect this is the most battered and worn book I own. The bibliography kept my attentio
Aug 09, 2009 Colin rated it it was amazing
I re-read this after a hiatus of many years. This is Boorstin's exploration of "discoverers" - those who have pushed back the boundaries of the world in time or space (those who formulated the calendar, or mapped the world, discovered new trade routes, discovered the principles of mathematics or physics or biology, etc). A truly encylcopedic view of the history of discovery - well worth reading.
Jul 24, 2015 Skipper rated it really liked it
Facinating view of the key people whose discoveries made a significant change in the history and culture of the world. My only complaint is that it doesn't have the footnotes most works of history have, but it is well written and deserves to be read by those who appreciate the heroics of those who dare to explore beyond the conventional borders of the culture in which they live.
Aug 05, 2016 Phyllis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book had been on my to-read list for long enough that I'd forgotten why I'd put it there, so a pleasant surprise. Daniel Boorstin's book is a delightful collection of stories of scientific discoveries. Most of the chapters are short so it's easy to pick up, read a bit, put down to ruminate about that topic, then pick up again and read something possibly related but off on a slightly different line. I haven't had this much fun with a nonfiction volume in years.

Go from when the early Mediterra
Jun 15, 2016 Kathy rated it really liked it
This book is a long, arduous read, but it is an absolutely fascinating walk through the history of the world! The author does a great job of connecting events happening in one part of the world with another and creating an overall timeline of events from antiquity to now. This was my husband’s book, and I have now gifted him with the other two volumes in the series.

Though the author reports without malicious intent or bias, I was continuously surprised and disappointed by the number of times th
Feb 25, 2009 Charles rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A monumental achievement. Well worth the reading. It wasn't as compellingly written as I might have liked. It took me a good while to get through it. But it's a great reference work.
Todd Martin
The Discoverers is a well-researched and well-written history of … wait for it … DISCOVERY! These include technological discoveries such as the timepiece, telescope, microscope and printing press, geographical discoveries such as Greenland and the Americas, and scientific discoveries such as astronomy, physiology, medicine, anthropology and sociology. The book is sweeping in its scope as well as its length (the progress bar on my Kindle crawled forward at such an interminable pace I wasn’t sure ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 11, 2013 Erik Graff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history of science fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Neither deep nor systematic, this popular history of human discovery is still a fun, albeit anecdotal, read.
Mar 06, 2016 Scott rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Either to be used as a phenomenal resource on just about every enormous development of human discovery or as a doorstop will have to be at the reader's discretion. Focusing on such things as man's understanding of time, the exploration of the planet, the growth writing and the printed word, this tome will either make you sit up and say, "Unbelievable what man has accomplished over the last 4,000 years!" or it will put you to sleep faster than NyQuil. If you are a fan of history and the interacti ...more
Jul 14, 2016 Marfita rated it liked it
Well, phew. This only took me 6 weeks. Mostly because, as much as I was enjoying it, the material is pretty dense and requires thought, digestion - who'm I kidding? I'm lazy. Shogun was 1200 pages and I read it in six days.

But I really did enjoy it. The section on Time was really eye-opening. You have to invent Time to invent a watch. It's a process. And to need a watch, you need a reason for Time to be cut up in those pieces. This is of particular interest to me for dealing with the watchmaker
Carlos Burga
The first thing I should mention about this book is that the reader should not be intimidated by its size. Boorstin manages to keep the reader’s attention by structuring the book in such a way that every chapter fits into the narrative of human kind’s passion for exploring the world and yet allows each chapter to be a window in this progressive journey. Throughout the book Boorstin also manages to find a balance between verbosity and faithfulness to the historical record, shifting from describin ...more
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Daniel Joseph Boorstin was a historian, professor, attorney, and writer. He was appointed twelfth Librarian of the United States Congress from 1975 until 1987.

He graduated from Tulsa's Central High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the age of 15. He graduated with highest honors from Harvard, studied at Balliol College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and earned his PhD at Yale University. He was a lawyer
More about Daniel J. Boorstin...

Other Books in the Series

Knowledge Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination
  • The Seekers: The Story of Man's Continuing Quest to Understand His World

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“Now, these parts of the earth [Europe, Africa, Asia] have been more extensively explored and a fourth part has been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci (as will be described in what follows). Inasmuch as both Europe and Asia received their names from women, I see no reason why any one should justly object to calling this part Amerige [from Greek “ge” meaning “land of”], i.e., the land of Amerigo, or America, after Amerigo, its discoverer, a man of great ability.” 1 likes
“Climaxing a movement for calendar reform which had been developing for at least a century, in 1582 Pope Gregory ordained that October 4 was to be followed by October 15.” 0 likes
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