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.