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

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  8,416 ratings  ·  203 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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Einstein by Walter IsaacsonGenius by James GleickThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. KuhnThe Discoverers by Daniel J. BoorstinTesla by Margaret Cheney
Scientists and Philosophers
4th out of 95 books — 99 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)
234th out of 3,246 books — 5,256 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jennifer (aka EM)
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
Charles Moody
If you were going on a yearlong cruise and could take only one book, this might be my recommendation. I cannot image 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 the ...more
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
Todd N
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
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
Sep 16, 2007 Eric rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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

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
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
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
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
Incredible breadth of scholarship in this work, and the first half I would label among the most uniquely entertaining works of history I have come across in quite some time. Like Mark Kurlansky, Boorstin approaches history through several unique lenses, always tied together by mankind's drive to discovery and expansion, such as the impact of spectacles on productivity, the impact of the development of tools of navigation and astronomy, and the currents of philosophical and religious thought that ...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
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.
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 3 of 5 stars  ·  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.
Holly Lindquist
This is an engaging and beautifully well-written history of science. Basically, imagine some of the most fascinating essays and magazine articles on science you've ever read, stick 'em in a 700 page book, and you have The Discoverers.

For those who actually want details on just how much this book covers, here is the shortest summary I could come up with:
- Humankind's first attempts at astronomy and time-keeping. (The history of clocks was probably my favorite part of the entire book, though the c
Aaron Arnold
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
Max Nova
One of the most ambitious books I have ever read. Boorstin sets off to cover the interplay between society and technological development from the most primitive timekeeping devices up to the wave-particle theory. And he succeeds admirably. This book is required reading for anyone trying to understand how the world works.

Some of the best quotes from the book:

"The most promising words ever written on the maps of human knowledge are terra incognita—unknown territory"

"THE great obstacle to discoveri
I feel conflicted from having read a book in which quality deserves five stars, but enjoyment deserves 3. I understand its merit; the book is very well written and even better researched. But I grew bored of the relentless onslaught of new facts, new characters, and new situations with only a historical thread tying them all together (Boorstin opts for "a" instead of "an" when prefacing "historical" which I found odd but preserve here). Boorstin demands a rudimentary historical knowledge which, ...more
This book was nothing like what I expected when I selected it from a stack to read quite some time ago. I figured it would be a bunch of mini-biographies of the people who made important discoveries in the history of the world. It kind of is that. But actually it is what the subtitle states -- a history of man's search to know his world and himself.

The book is divided into 4 Books: Time, The Earth and The Seas, Nature, and Society. Each book is then subdivided again into specific aspects of know
Herb Hastings
I just finished rereading this after a 30 year break. It is a treasure trove of history. The author gives us the stories behind great advances in human knowledge, from the ancient to the modern times. It is well written and obviously written by a scholar in love with his subject.

This book was written well before the "New Atheists Writers" appeared on the scene and Boorstein does not give any personal view of religious doctrine. The stories he recounts do touch on religion, mainly as a hindrance
Daniel Boorstin has taken full advantage of his access to the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute to write this incredible book. I read it many years ago, but still remember the awe of discovering people who dared to investigate the unknown. One of my favorite questions is "Why did the Chinese not discover Europe?" I had never thought about it so even the question, much less the answer, blew my mind. Put this on you must read list now!
A friend of mine told me he would only join Goodreads if I read a bunch of this book. So I did. I'm always up for a good challenge. But phew! That was some slow reading! The chapters I chose to read were: 1, 6, 10, 11, 13, 27, 65, 66, 70, and 78.

I'm personally not opposed to reading non-fiction. In fact I find that I often enjoy it. And while I found the concept of this book to be interesting I found its presentation to be a bit dry. What could've been said in 2-3 pages was drawn out over 9-10 p
Boorstin's monumental work is like some sort of Narnian wardrobe--far larger on the inside than you'd believe by looking at the book itself. "The Discoverers" is a long series of fairly short chapters, each of which tells the story of one aspect of man's gaining knowledge about his world. Boorstin includes segments covering things like the discovery of time and timepieces, the exploration of the world, and numerous scientific discoveries throughout history. The format of the book is quite effect ...more
This is the book that turned me on to nonfiction. My original copy is missing the front cover because I've read it so many times that it has fallen off. I cried when Daniel Boorstin died, and if that isn't enough of a recommendation, I don't know what is.

That said, if you'd like to know more about the book: it's a story composed of the stories of those who have discovered everything from ideas to places. The first section in particular is a description of the discovery of the modern idea of tim
Jodi Ettenberg
As the former Librarian of the U.S. Library of Congress, Boorstin is one of those people who I would love to meet and sponge up the content of his brain by osmosis. A good start is this book, the first in a series of three. The Discoverers walks through the history of human discovery, including the many fortuitous coincidences that often preceded them. In the thirst to soak up other cultures and traditions, we sometimes forget to learn about their initial discovery and the incremental impact of ...more
I'm re-reading one of my favorite books. I first read this not long after it was published in paperback.

It's essentially the story of everything we know. It's not about 'history', culture or the arts. Instead it's the story of how man discovers and learns. How time works, how we came to measure it, how we discovered far away places, and why we bothered, how we observed the skies and the world around us, even the world inside our own bodies.

I know - it sounds like a bog yawn to some, but there's
Tom Thom
Chapter 60 "The Lost Arts of Memory" is of particular interest to an old one like me.
Chapters 27 and 28 deal with the wanderings of the Vikings and provides detail about Leif's Camp at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.
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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
The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination The Americans, Vol. 1: The Colonial Experience The Americans, Vol. 3: The Democratic Experience The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America The Seekers: The Story of Man's Continuing Quest to Understand His World

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“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” 1708 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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