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A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  921 ratings  ·  76 reviews
A one-voume reference to the history of ideas that is a compendium of everything that humankind has thought, invented, created, considered, and perfected from the beginning of civilization into the twenty-first century. Massive in its scope, and yet totally accessible, A HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE covers not only all the great theories and discoveries of the human race, but also ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published March 17th 1992 by Ballantine Books (first published 1991)
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Though I genuinely enjoyed the book, I feel obliged to highlight couple of glaring factual mistakes I detected. They both deal with Russia and as a Russian I could not pass them unnoticed. The Russo-Japanese War was started by Japan with a surprising attack. The author states opposite.

Next, he confuses Belorussians (literally "White Russians") with White Guards, who fought Reds in the Russian Civil War and had mostly nothing in common with these people, apart from sounding alike to a certain deg
The author takes on a subject that is too big and his lack of deeper knowledge is showing in some chapters, which are trite and sometimes even erroneous. Still an interesting read in parts, but nothing to write home about.
The name of Charles Van Doren showed up recently as the main character of the movie "Quiz Show". Charles Van Doren is the well off and highly cultured son of a well-known university professor who made a number of appearances on a TV quiz show in the 1950s. He was later found to have conspired with the producers of the show in commiting fraud by being coached before the show on the questions to be asked and their answers.

After the quiz show scandal, Charles, who was also a professor, was banned f
This is a sad and unnecessary work. Indeed, how anyone with the intellect of Van Doren could write such a flawed and careless piece is almost incomprehensible. To begin, his work is Western biased, leaving very little space devoted to the remarkable achievements of non-Western civilizations and cultures. Perhaps Mr. Van Doren would have benefited himself and his work by examining the works of such scholars as L.S. Stavrianos. Emanuel Wallerstein, Peter Stearns, and other world systems historians ...more
An enormous disappointment. I've read chunks of it but could not bring myself to read it cover to cover, just didn't seem worth it because there is absolutely no objectivity in Van Doren's writing. He considers the history of knowledge of the West as equivalent to 'everything mankind has ever thought'. This is a classic example of the west's arrogance and ignorance. It's like as if the rest of the world didn't even exist because of course they were all savages waiting for the white man to shower ...more
One of the few books I return to over and over again. A wonderful supplement to History akin to Durant's Lessons of History. Van Doren breaks down the lessons learned from various historical periods: the ancient world, the Greeks (where for example, he traces the development of Thales Question through various philophers), the Romans who learned or stole from the Greeks and added their own pragmatism, the 1000 year experiment with God called the Middle Ages , the newfound Humanism of the Renaissa ...more
sharon Cate
Charles Van Doren allows too much of his own personal beliefs to be evident throughout this book. One expects the author of history books to at least try and be objective and when he is not...the expectation is that he would explain why. Charles Van Doren does not explain the reason for his worldview and the book is lacking for that reason. In addition, the book was written in 1991. It was painfully dated in the latter chapters regarding the history of knowledge of the present and future. It is ...more
This book outlines the changes that have taken place in the world. The majority of people in the world call these changes "progress". A small number may not see any improvement in the world at all. And a few might even say the world is getting worse. It is a useful, though opinionated, outline of the world's philosophical and scientific landmarks in history. What is clear in the book is the triumph of three things (or ideas): secularism/humanism, science/technology, and democracy. The author him ...more
James Ingalls
A well written book full of misrepresentations, omitted facts, and occasionally just false information (especially in regards to Catholicism). This is a good book to read if you're already knowledgeable about it's subjects, and therefore can see past some of the blaring errors. For example, as early on as page 15, Van Doren claims that Catholics believe that Christ's sacrifice on the cross is repeated at every mass. This is false. Catholics believe that Christ's ONE sacrifice is merely present a ...more
Jan 30, 2014 DY rated it 3 of 5 stars
An interesting story-style journey into the history of thought 5000 years ago up till the 20th century .. currently reading his prophecies for the next 100 years (starting 1990). Some prophecies are a bit silly, others are solid and some have even come true (the companion computer and the wrist watch computer). Sometimes he fells into mistakes or ambiguity, especially when talking on very complicated issues like the chaos theory, fractals, atoms, robots, etc. Some ideas are obsolete now. I found ...more
Olivia Lewis
This book should be named: A History of EUROPEAN knowledge. It completely ignores the knowledge and discoveries of the rest of the world outside of Europe, and a brief foray into America. So, read it with that in mind. It is incredibly eurocentric.

Another negative is that the author keeps inserting his own opinions into what ought to be a history, such as never saying WW1 or WW2 but always calling the two wars "the second Thirty Year's War", and falsely stating that Russia first invaded Japan du
The Past and Present parts were very well done but...

...the future part was a different story. More on that later.

Van Doren's A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future is a truly remarkable book. He breaks down a number of key philosophies and religions and makes them palatable to the reader and also demonstrates their influence over time. It is a very well written book - very enjoyable to read.

He is particularly good at succintly describing why the end of the Roman Empire was such a
Al Bità
This overview of the achievements of human knowledge ranges from the ancient past to the final decade of the 20th century, was published in 1991. It stems, therefore, from an American point of reference when hope and confidence at least in the Western world was possibly at its highest point, and even provokes the author into making tentative (and from our place in time, possibly quite amusing) but interesting predictions for the next hundred years which in themselves also call for a cautious but ...more
Charles Van Doren takes the reader through an overview of the pivotal events, people, and achievements of world history.

The most exciting chapter is the final one entitled The Next Hundred Years. The author takes more personal liberty here to make predictions based on his knowledge of technology in 1991, the year the book was published, and educate guesses from historical events. It can be argued that his description of the "Companion computer" aka "knowbot" has truly been realized 20 years lat
R.L. Calixto
Feb 28, 2008 R.L. Calixto rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The Good, the Oppressed and the Hungry
Recommended to R.L. by: I saw it in a duty-free shop as LAX. How appropriate!
I've given this book as a gift to about a dozen different people! If you love history, cultures, and man's progress, and seeing the "bigger picture", you will enjoy this book! If you read between the lines, this book offers "the biggest picture", that is, world peace.

Instead of writing a review, I will copy this following column I wrote about this book. It is also a subject that I am currently outlining as a book, having the same title, The Formula for World Peace. Here is the column:

The Formul
Bennett Coles
In a relatively short 412 pages, this book lays out with remarkable clarity and insight the journey of knowledge that humans have made over the past 6000 years. Van Doren compares the knowledge and societies of major ancient civilizations, and discusses in detail once-revolutionary ideas such as “zero” or alphabets. He reveals just how much Western culture owes to the Greeks of the last few centuries BC, as well as the additions of their Roman successors.

The “great social experiment” of the Mid
This is a fascinating and comprehensive book about how we know we know, and how we came to know it. I bought this for two dollars at a used book sale, so it was a great deal.

Van Doren is a smart guy - according to the author blurb, he's got advanced degrees in mathematics and literature. You can tell, because those are the two subjects he concentrates most on in this book.

But you'll find out lots of interesting things. For example, how Aristotle was used to justify slavery and the slave trade.
Trampas Jones
It may be because of the age of the book or the author but his white Protestant middle class views so sullied the first half I read that I could not take it any more. His lack of understanding of deeper issues revolving around what he states makes inaccuracies pop up at least every other page. This book is a waste of time to anyone who has a high school diploma or better education.
Ray Fu
Sep 12, 2007 Ray Fu rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone who doesn't just read one section of a book and write reviews on it.
So far, everyone I have seen who has reviewed this book did not bother to read it. They just have a thumb up their ass talking about a piece of chapter that. This book gives a chronological rundown of major movements in mankind's history, beginning with how we started from nomadic herders, leading through early Egypt, Dark Ages and all sub ages underneath, that have cuminated and contributed to our own current state and level of knowledge. In the final Chapter, he starts to give possible outcome ...more
Miss B
An outstandingly intricate and personable piece of research and writing.
As a teacher I truly believe this is the type of text we should be using in schools, helping us all to question and delve into the past and into our own beliefs about how humanity (often inhumanity), society and the earth has evolved.
I was convinced I'd be 5-starring this right up until nearly the end but the last chapter was so dire it detracted quite considerably from the beauty of the rest of the text. I appreciate a pre
I began to read the book two years ago. I don't think it is fairly accurate in the book about the traditional Chinese culture, such as Chinese language writing system. Anyway I can learn a lot about the world history. It is one of my favorite books.
Scott Waugaman
A very important book, for anyone who wants to understand how we've gotten to this point. If the progress of human civilization can be marked by the progresion of ideas, this book explains and theorizes how all of our current ideas have been ultimately spawned from the first civilizations. I read this on a twelve hour train journey from Inverness Scotland to Dover, before a crossing to France, and my whole view on the world around changed both figuratively and literally.

(This book, combined with
Laurie Bennett
This would have been a much better book if the author had stuck to his title. He veers off topic frequently, to little advantage, and errs embarrassingly when he tries to predict the future.
Robert Vrbnjak
Well done. Author had been based mainly on the history of Western knowledge, a little less on the eastern knowledge. But due to the fact of big period of time he writes about, overall impression is great. Several facts are probably somewhat historically untrue or unprovable, but all in all, very good. Recomended.
Christian Clarke
Sep 05, 2007 Christian Clarke rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Friends and Lovers
Shelves: history
Read the last chapter. Van Doren sees a world run by artificial intelligence, ala Blade Runner or the Matrix. His argument as he presents it feels right to me, even if it's painted with the same brush as the Terminator trilogy. Then again, who's to say the future cyborgs didn't send James Cameron back in time to make Terminator? By the way, Dr. Nick Bostrom of the Future of Humanity Institute at OXFORD, believes there is a 20 percent chance current human beings are computerized simulations creat ...more
You're left with a much firmer grasp of the whole of human history and progress after finishing this book. Very comprehensive. Maybe TOO comprehensive in some cases. The author throws a lot of names out there, oftentimes names that never pop up again. This isn't surprising really. History is complicated and messy. In some cases it feels like there is just no way to retain this information though.

It doesn't help that he jumps back and forth in time in many cases. It kind of breaks the thread.

A go
This reads like Van Doran sat down and wrote about all the things that he thought he knew something about. I have no idea how this got published. Certain things that I have studied in great detail are clearly misrepresented, completely wrong, or embarrassingly naive, which makes me wonder about the things he discusses that I don't know that well. I first encountered the book in school and on every page I found myself scratching my head. The suggestion that the entire history of Western thought i ...more
a flight of ego ... clever start but disappointing in almost every way
Alex Kartelias
This book is quite amazing in its depth. The title may seem naive, but Charles Van Doren does a brilliant job narrating the history of our species. What makes this book different from other history books is that it discusses from multiple perspectives: philosophy, literature, art, politics and technology- among others. If one is searching for a book that can give them a compete- or near to complete- survey on the history of humanity, look no further. This book is an astounding achievement and wi ...more
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Charles Lincoln Van Doren is an American intellectual, writer, and editor who was involved in a television quiz show scandal in the 1950s. In 1959 he confessed before the United States Congress that he had been given the correct answers by the producers of the show Twenty One.
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“...they are able to forgive themselves, as a wise man once said, for being human. That is knowing that life is hard and virtue rare, they keep the ancient faith that it is better to love than to hate, to live fully even if imperfectly.” 3 likes
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