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Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  129 ratings  ·  18 reviews
Scientist, mathematician, traveler, soldier—and spy—Rene Descartes was one of the founders of the modern world. His life coincided with an extraordinary time in history: the first half of the miraculous seventeenth century, replete with genius in the arts and sciences, and wracked by civil and international conflicts across Europe. But at his birth in 1596 the world was st ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 31st 2006 by Walker Books
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3.64  · 
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 ·  129 ratings  ·  18 reviews

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Elliott Bignell
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grayling's account of the life of Descartes is an engaging and accessible read. If anything, it is a little too short and light, and left me wanting more. As a professional philosopher, Grayling is well placed to treat of Descartes' contribution to Western thought, but he eschews deep technical analysis in favour of true biography - an account of the events of Descartes' outward life. An interesting life it appears to have been, as well. Set against the events of the Reformation and the 30 Years ...more
Mike W
Jan 07, 2012 rated it liked it
This book started a little slow. A lot of historical detail about the Hapsburgs and their enemies. Too many names and dates and battlefields to remember. But it got better about a third of the way through.

Much of the beginning was devoted to Grayling's provocative thesis that Descartes was a secretly a spy. But the case he makes for this is weak and circumstantial. Given that he could not really support his thesis persuasively, the author ought merely to have mentioned it as a possibility, pres
Denise Louise
Jul 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Because I often read non-fiction books in the genre of history and science, I tend to come across the mention of Rene Descartes on many occasions. That being the case, I decided to read this book to learn a little about him, since I didn't know much. After reading this book, I feel like I have accomplished the goal of knowing a little. It would have been nice to have gotten a better idea after 250 pages. There was a lot in this book on the nature of what was going on in the European world during ...more
Audrey Saltarelli
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Such a boring and slow book on a subject that should have been interesting.
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
closest to an actual biography.. worth a read
Michael Moseley
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was attracted to read this because it was sitting in the library at home and was by A. C. Grayling someone who I know and respect from his work with Humanist UK. As a engineer or scientist I have been much affected by Descartes but probably did often know how or why. It is extraordinary how we have become so specialised in the 21st century and I consider myself a generalist. Descartes was a man of huge capacity to tackle a wide variety of subjects and was perhaps the first to give us the basis ...more
Cherif Jazra
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a great history of the man. It weaves a lot of historical background with personal stories, many of them taken from his letters. His speculations on whether Descartes was a Jesuit spy during his youth are interesting though not convincing as he himself calls them speculations. His character, his luckier temper, comes about as he fumes against his critics and calls them name, whether it was Hobbes, Fermat, or gassendi, but particularly Voetius, a professor of theology who would become a r ...more
Hugh Coverly
Mar 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A remarkable book on the person of Renè Descartes. It’s attempt to show us what the great thinker was up to after he finished school until he published his great works is highly suggestive at best but is understated and not fully convincing. Descartes successes in live were overshadowed by his sometimes explosive temper and his need to be accepted by others and the Church for his ideas. That he had a possible common law wife and a daughter who both died in the midst of his success provides a new ...more
Jun 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).

I've wanted to know more about Descartes for a few years after an interesting conversation with a colleague who was studying philosophy at the time.

This book was an introduction for me, both to the world of Philosophy and to Descartes himself.

I was saddened by some of what I read about the nature of the man. The book describes Descartes as a flawed intellectual, someone with deep insight but an almost petty sensibility.

In retrospect I think I was a litt
Sue King
Jun 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fascinating biography in the context of history. The philosophy of Descartes in this book is somewhat difficult to follow, although I don't think it is the author's fault. The beginnings of "modern" philosophy were quite basic and it is hard to believe some of the thoughts that were prevalent and hotly debated.
Daniel Kukwa
Jul 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Simple & straightforward in the most satisfactory way, this is both an incredibly informative read, and a pleasingly easy read. It certainly manages to convey Descartes' life-long prima dona behaviour both critically & easy task, considering the contradictions.

Don Fitzgerald
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
OK read. Not very exciting, but a straightforward biography. Awkwardly puts a summary of his philosophy and mathematics works after going through the chronology of his life. I'm sure there are better bios out there.
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
This made the somewhat obscure theories of Descartes vey accessible I had tried to grasp this in the usual dry philosophy lectures but this brought the man to life put his work in the perspective of the times he lived in, which gave it a reality that brought it and the man to life.
Craig Bolton
Descartes: The Life and times of a Genius by A. C. Grayling (2006)
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Had to skip a lot of the book, as too much politics re 30 years war * but honestly a good read
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Feb 26, 2017
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Renee Lascala
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Oct 13, 2018
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Dec 17, 2018
Ryan Kunde
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Mar 20, 2016
Robert Mann
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Aug 03, 2011
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Uriah Bennett
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Feb 29, 2016
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Dec 26, 2014
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Dec 31, 2011
Ralph Berg
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May 22, 2017
Arnav Mittal
rated it it was amazing
Apr 15, 2019
More readable than I expected, and I found references to other biographies very helpful. I learnt a lot - there were many aspects of his life I knew little about, and will return to read the philosophy again as a result of reading this.
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Jan 31, 2014
Mrityunjay Mrityunjay
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Sep 11, 2011
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Anthony Clifford "A. C." Grayling is a British philosopher. In 2011 he founded and became the first Master of New College of the Humanities, an independent undergraduate college in London. Until June 2011, he was Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, where he taught from 1991. He is also a supernumerary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford.

He is a director and contributor at Pr