Virginia's Reviews > The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester
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Aug 25, 11

bookshelves: 2011books, audiobook, library, nonfiction
Read from August 17 to 25, 2011 — I own a copy

I had never heard of Joseph Needham OR his epic work, Science and Civilization in China, before reading this. I only picked it up because of the author – I’ve liked everything else by Simon Winchester.

After reading this, I recognize the great contribution this guy made to science, especially in bringing information about China back to England, but I do not think I like him very much as a person. I definitely would not have liked to work with him. The dude was very smart, obviously, but his flamboyant personal life tended to be the primary driver of his interests. (The book could have been called: The Man Who Loved Chinese Women.) Dr. Needham would not have lasted long in a modern corporate or university setting, though – I was struck by how unethical his actions were a lot of the time. The way he was able to give his mistress a job would not fly today – as Paul Wolfowitz could tell him. And that he was the only guy in his department who never had to teach, and kept his office/rooms/lab for years even though he was out of the country constantly, and the way he manipulated expensive trips so someone else was paying for him to consort with his mistress, etc etc etc.

I did learn a lot reading this, since I don’t know much about Chinese history at all – in the 20th century or otherwise – I just wish the focus of interest had been a more likable guy. I did kind of sympathize with him by the end, and the sections about McCarthyism from a British perspective were very interesting, as well as the sections about traveling through China doing research.
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