The discoverers : a history of man's search to know his world and himself

by Daniel J. Boorstin

Paper Book, 1983

Status

Available

Publication

Birmingham, Ala. : Gryphon Editions, [1990], c1983.

Description

The obstacles to discovery - the illusions of knowledge - are also part of the story. In this work, Boorstin captures the illusions about the past - the earth before Columbus and Balboa, Magellan and Captain Cook, about the heavens before Copernicus and Galileo, about the human body before Paracelsus and Harvey, plants before Linnaeus, the past before Petrarch, wealth before Adam Smith, the physical world before Newton, Dalton, Faraday and Einstein. He asks unfamiliar questions: why didn't the Chinese discover Europe or America? Why did people take so long to learn that the earth goes around the sun?

User reviews

LibraryThing member AliceAnna
Dry reading, but TONS of information -- the history of science and scientific thought and even the history of the social sciences, including the history of history. Fascinating between the drier portions.
LibraryThing member bibliostuff
One of the best books I've ever read. Temendous overview mankind's discoveries. It's divided into broad categories: Time, Earth & Seas, Nature, and Society. I actually read this some 25 years ago and looking at it again, I think it's time to read it a second time.
LibraryThing member saturnloft
This is an engaging and beautifully well-written history of science. Basically, imagine the most fascinating essays and magazine articles on science you've ever read, stick 'em in a 700 page book, and you have The Discoverers.

For those who actually want details on just how much this book covers, here is the shortest summary I could come up with:
- Humankind's first attempts at astronomy and time-keeping. (The history of clocks was probably my favorite part of the entire book, though the competition was quite fierce.)
- Geography, exploration, navigation, and the inventions of maps and atlases.
- The controversial sciences of Copernicus and Galileo, and the unpleasant reaction of the religious authorities.
- The first explorations into the world of microbes and the rather ghoulish beginnings of anatomy & medicine (another of my favorite parts).
- Isaac Newton and the formation of long-titled Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. (There are some anecdotes in this part that give one the impression that Newton was not a particularly nice guy.)
- The history of zoology, botany, taxonomy, and the theory of evolution.
- Musings on human memory from Homer to Freud, the history of libraries (we can thank the monks for that), printing & book-making, and those illustrious and odd writers of the first generation of dictionaries.
- A history of history (because people used to just make that stuff up before Herodotus came along & he still made a lot of stuff up), archaeology, museums & preservation, anthropology, economics, & statistics.
- Finally, the end of this incredibly wide-ranging work summarizes progress in atomic theory (up to 1911, that is).

Anyway, I left out quite a bit, but you get the idea. And how many gob-smacking fun-facts and anecdotes are available to wow your nerdy friends and compatriots?
A plethora, folks. This book is fantastic. Go stuff your brain.
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LibraryThing member NaggedMan
At 684 densely printed pages, plus a further sixty for the author's notes and index, this is neither a light nor an easy read - but very well worthwhile. It was not till I'd finished that I read on to discover, inside the back cover, that Boorstin had been Librarian of Congress the last time I was able to visit that wondeful place, back in the 1980s. Plans to visit this Spring have been dashed by some pandemic - next year perhaps (2022).
Although the general thrust of 'discovery' (the long evolution of man's understanding of our world and ourselves) may be well known to most prospective readers, don't let this put you off - I defy anyone to read almost and chapter without discovering some new personality or some new insight.
And don't be so foolish as to assume that, published in 1983, the book is dated, Yes, of course, we've continued to learn many things about distant black holes, the inner space of atoms and the inner space of our own minds, but this book is about the journey - a journey that will never end.
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LibraryThing member all4metals
An interesting book on the advancement of technology through the ages.
LibraryThing member Solar-Moon
A very comprehensive history book without being watered down. This is one of the more interesting books that I have read. The author has obviously done a tremendous amount of research to write this book. If you want a basic understanding of how humanity has evolved into what we are today then this book is for you.
LibraryThing member amerigoUS
A wide-ranging history book on how man's discoveries in the sciences expanded his consciousness, leading to more exploration and thereby further changing and advancing civilizations. Boorstin organizes this vast knowledge from all over the world into a readable history which in the end leaves the reader in absolute awe at how far we've come and wondering how much further can we go. Separated into four Books (Time, The Earth and Seas, Nature, Society) these books are further broken down into section and sub-sections such as Making Time Portable, The Discovery of Asia, Specimen Hunting, and The Lost Arts of Memory.… (more)
LibraryThing member bostonian71
Well-written and -researched history of those who made investigation and experimentation their life's work.
LibraryThing member NielsenGW
This work reminded me a lot of Bill Bryson’s recent work “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” While Boorstin does not quite achieve Bryson’s level of finesse, wit, and trivia, his history of the great scientific, geographic, and philosophical discoveries is still impressive. His prose tends to give the reader a mild case of whiplash. As a bathroom reader, this volume might serve some function.… (more)
LibraryThing member Michelle.Sayer
I read this book several times in the 1990's. I was reminded of it because my nearly three year old granddaughter was sitting on my lap and I asked her if she would like me to read to her the article I was reading about human pair bonding. She listened very quietly, then I looked at my 27 year old daughter and asked if she remembered me reading this book, The Discoverers, to her and her siblings when they were very young. The four of us would lay in my bed and they would listen to me read The Discoverers until they fell asleep and I carried them to their own beds. Wonderful book full of humanities beauty through creation and learning. Everyone should read it, or at least have it and page through to find the parts that interest them most.… (more)
LibraryThing member poulantik
A very well written work on the most eminent discoveries and inventions. Here is all you need to know.
LibraryThing member stuart10er
The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin, published in 1985, is a solid, thoroughly researched and well documented series of 82 essays on the history of human discovery. Some of these discoveries are physical, such as the New World or the trade route around Africa. Some of the discoveries are scientific such as the Calculus, the atom, or Evolution.

For me, the book has two aspects that set it well above similar works on scientific history. That is, an exploration of how we discovered things that one might not normally think of as a discovery, such as the measurement of Time, or how did the idea of divisions in pre-history into Stone, Bronze and Iton ages develop. How did we start to measure Time? This is a fascinating subject and one in which Boorstin indulges enough space to make a decent foray into the subject.

The other novel aspect of the book is the occasional discussion of "why not them?". Why didn't the Chinese or Islam invent the movable printing press? They had better and more advanced technologies in printing and in paper production long before the west, but it took Gutenberg to invent it. "Why not them" is at least as interesting (if not more) a subject than why Gutenberg did invent it.

Even though 25 years has passed since its publication, the work does not seem to show its age as Boorstin's positions his text in a manner to transcend our current period. Many of these essays will be just as interesting to readers 50 or 100 years from now.
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LibraryThing member wickenden
Boorstin opens up history from a Discoverers point of view in a way that James Burke in his "connections" never seems to pull off. While the latter's "connections" are tenuous at best, Boorstine's are solid: they lead to something tangible.

I loved it.
LibraryThing member tgeorge2348
Outstanding summary of how we came to know details regarding time, navigation, and multiple aspects of science.
LibraryThing member DLMorrese
I just finished rereading this. It took a while. It's a very l-o-n-g book about a great many things and people. - What I especially like is that this work of history concentrates on the important stuff, not the wars and generals or rulers of nations, but man's progressive discovery of the world and himself. The stuff you usually find in history books is a backdrop, a part of the setting to the real story of what people have accomplished. I recommend it for people interested in the evolution of human thought and understanding of the universe.… (more)
LibraryThing member juliapequlia
I *loved* this book, and when I discovered the two volume lavishly illustred edition, I flipped. This wonderfully written book is broad and deep in its coverage, yet the writing is engaging and not pedantic. The book is also quite well subdivided in such a way that it is easy to read in small chunks without losing your place. A great bedtime book!… (more)
LibraryThing member JBreedlove
A large volume from a used bookstore full of historical connections of not only those who sailed off to find the west and create science but also the development of key ideas and the people (often unheard of by me) and the events that allowed for the eventual fruition science. I read this over a year during nights while working away.… (more)
LibraryThing member kencf0618
How the world was discovered, strata by strata, discipline by discipline.
LibraryThing member riskedom
For years this was one of those books in my collection that I would read a chapter that I was interested in then put down. Finally, I decided I was going to read everything that I hadn't read already. I did that as well as rereading quite a few chapters that I had already covered a few years ago. What a wonderful work of art this very lengthy book is! So many literary portraits of so many fascinating characters. I wish this would have been required reading when I took a history of science class in college (or at least parts of it). With the right guide, I would have come out better educated and perhaps chose a more interesting research project. The Discovers turns out to be an extremely engaging tour of the history of science in western civilization by the late erudite Daniel Boorstin. More accurately, it is a history of those who shaped our understanding of the world as we know and live it today. For instance, Columbus was not a scientist as we think of a scientist but his voyages cannot be separated from the development of the sciences of cartography, navigation and geography. While a popular history, The Discovers always draws the reader deeper in individual subjects rather than leading to a smug superficial knowledge. If I could provide one humble criticism it is that Boorstin, for all his reputation, is philosophically shallow. Such a lengthy treatise should ask some deeper questions about what we've lost in the pursuit of science. Everywhere, philosophical progress and theological collapse are assumed to be inseparable from the Western trajectory of scientific knowledge and advance. Nonetheless, the Discoverers is better than an encyclopedia because Boorstin is a master of narrative. Yet, it is also, I believe, purposefully non-encyclopedic in its breadth. It ends with Faraday and Maxwell and only alludes to the 20th c. atomic scientists and says nothing about the moon landing. Is the anticlimactic ending to the book the point? There is no climax to the pursuit of knowledge.… (more)
LibraryThing member schmicker
Boorstin's celebration of humanity's intellectual curiosity.

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