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A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,324 ratings  ·  100 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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3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,324 ratings  ·  100 reviews

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Serafim Silva
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
20 anos antes abordou o tema da Origem de Dan Brown.
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
Jan 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
Sharon Cate
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Zorka Zamfirova
Feb 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ne mogu da odolim, čitam ponovo. Kako se mnogo toga zaboravi opet mi je uživanje kao da čitam prvi put. Eh, šta ti je zaborav.
Aug 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I learned a lot from this book, although the first half of the book was definetily more interesting than the second half. Even though the author seem like a wise and empathic guy, he also comes along very dogmatic and arrogant when preaching his belief in progress and modernity. This made some parts of the book extremely annoying and tiresome. I wish he would have been able to rise above the current zeitgeist, but I guess that is easier said than done. All in all this was a good book with a lot ...more
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, nonfiction
This is an excellent history of knowledge, one that I think is indispensable for a broad understanding of the development of knowledge over the many thousands of years of human history. What other book begins with a discussion of ancient civilizations inventing writing and numbers and religion, and ends with a discussion of computer enslavement? None that I know of. For the vast range of knowledge discussed, and the huge amount of time over which these developments took place, it's surprising ho ...more
Jan 17, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Joseph Millo
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Proclaimed to be "a compendium of everything humankind has thought, invented, created, considered, and perfected from the beginning of civilization" up to 1990. It "covers not only all the great theories and discoveries of the human race, but also explores the social conditions, political climates, and individual men and women of genius that brought ideas to fruition throughout history."
However, since it does all this in only 400 pages, this compendium is a very brief introduction to the subject
Chris Beiser
Oct 23, 2017 marked it as given-up-on
Read about a quarter of this. This is a distillation of what might be thought of the western consensus view of human knowledge, as of 1970-something. In of itself, it’s an incredible work of narrativizing and distillation. The claim that it could be the greatest such work in the history of the world could even be made. That said, if you’re reading this review, it’s not unlikely that you in fact have consumed and reconsumed the ideas in this book over and over through the course of your life; it’ ...more
Jul 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, history, nonfiction
Reviewing a book on the history of human knowledge is a daunting prospect (though not perhaps as daunting as writing one). In 412 short pages, the author succinctly traces the story of human progress from the earliest recorded civilizations to the world we inhabit today. I have only read one other sweeping survey of human history before this one. Of the two, this one was more comprehensive and less prone to - shall we say - bouts of narrative journalism.

If you enjoy art, literature, philosophy,
Jerry Wall
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
survey of thought and ideas through history.
in our history the collective memory retains at least some knowledge from the past to which is added every new discovery. p. xvi
Everywhere, as Thucydides wrote, the strong did what they wished and the weak suffered what they had to. p. 4 !!!!!
massive construction projects partly so that no one should suffer -- of enjoy -- the restlessness of the unemployed. . . . every tyrant in history has attempted to insulate his people from all kinds of knowledge
Alex Kartelias
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
R.L. Calixto
Feb 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Richard Rogers
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
There's a lot to enjoy in this book. It is very readable with a suitably broad scope, and it is filled with things I didn't know or only half-knew or looked at a different way before, especially with reference to ancient times. I'll admit, that's what I was looking for most, and so that was the part I enjoyed most.

The discussion of modern times has some interesting twists--the author refers to WWI and WWII as a single war with a pause in the middle, and I found that perspective and the discussi
Praveen Kishore
Nov 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Some chapters are really very well written and are engaging.

The book suffers from that eurocentric (western) view from which many other similar books suffer, where the history and development is presented as a linear, Greek-Roman movement (with, of course European Dark ages included) of thought and ideas. After Renaissance and Reformation, this eurocentric approach is obviously more convincing and correct for examining the history of knowledge. However, before sixteenth century, focusing only o
Carlos Miguel
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rather than 5 stars, it would be more like a 4.6, but I really enjoyed reading this book. It summarizes a great part of the Western civilization history while being very clear, consistent and easy to understand. Every chapter is full of open questions which challenges the reader to be critical about the topic. Also, many books are referenced in case the reader wants to expand his/her knowledge in a particular subject.

One of the main topics of the book is the relationship between science and rel
Daniel Parker
Excellent read. Like a semester of college in a book. Thought provoking and written in an accessible and informative manner by the author, this reads as a labor of love and a sincere interest to portray the beginnings of thought and understanding up to modern times.
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
If you do not know much about the history of great people and their great ideas, this is a good book. I found the beginning chapters to be the best, but truth be told I know more about the 19th century and onward. My boredom in later chapters is not the authors fault.
Stephen Masri
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
D Calco
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Read this 20+ years ago but I remember it being very good.
Matt McClure
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Van Doren's A History of Knowledge can be interpreted as a cross between his earlier work, The Idea of Progress, and Wells' The Outline of History. The former is a historical study of the human condition through what some deem as "progress" and what others deem as "regress," and the latter is a well-written, concise -- though in some parts, outdated -- glance at the history of mankind. Van Doren paints humankind's history of knowledge as wholly progressive but also long, sometimes intermittent i ...more
Nov 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Bennett Coles
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Al Bità
Jul 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
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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.
“...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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