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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


A History of Knowledge

By Charles Van Doren
Ballantine Books, 422 pp, 1991

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. How the Church relied not on Scripture but on Aristotle to suppress Galileo's theories. How the Age of Reason wasn't all that reasonable. How Christians were the light of the dark ages. How the role of money has changed over the centuries. How the Black Death led to some very positive results, such as helping to produce the Renaissance. Find out what the Greeks and Romans knew.

It goes on and on. The early history stuff held the most interest for me, and I thought the book dragged once it entered the 19th and 20th centuries. Van Doren also speculates what the next century (the 21st) will bring, and some of his ideas are, to put it mildly, a bit kooky.

But overall, this is a well-written, interesting, and general survey on some important ideas and events in our history. I recommend it.

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