A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future


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 explores the social conditions, political climates, and individual men and women of genius that brought ...
See more details below
Paperback (Reissue)
BN.com price
(Save 27%)$16.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (133) from $1.99   
  • New (8) from $9.73   
  • Used (125) from $1.99   
Sending request ...


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 explores the social conditions, political climates, and individual men and women of genius that brought ideas to fruition throughout history.
"Crystal clear and concise...Explains how humankind got to know what it knows."
Clifton Fadiman
Selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Van Doren's provocative, encyclopedic guide to great thinkers, concepts and philosophical trends was a BOMC and History Book Club selection in cloth. (Apr.)
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345373168
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/1992
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 171,767
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii
Author to Reader xv
Progress in Knowledge xv
Kinds of Progress in Knowledge xvi
Universal History xvi
Primitive Man xviii
Knowledge of Particulars xix
General Knowledge xix
Certain Knowledge xxi
Knowledge and Happiness xxiii
Outline of the Book xxiii
1. Wisdom of the Ancients 3
Egypt 4
India 6
China 7
Mesopotamia 9
Aztec and Inca 11
Human Sacrifice 13
Judaism 15
Christianity 16
Judaism and Christianity Compared 18
Islam 19
Judeo-Christianity and Islam Compared 20
Buddhism 21
Lessons from the Past 23
Alphabets 25
Zero 27
2. The Greek Explosion 29
The Problem of Thales 30
The Invention of Mathematics: The Pythagoreans 34
The Discovery of Atomic Theory: Democritus 38
The Problem of Thales: The Ultimate Solution 41
Moral Truth and Political Expediency: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle 42
The Fallacy of the Consequent 44
Greece versus Persia: The Fruitful Conflict 48
The Tragedy of Athens 51
Herodotus, Thucydides, and the Invention of History 53
The Spirit of Greek Thought 56
3. What the Romans Knew 60
Greek Theory, Roman Practice 65
Law, Citizenship, and Roads 67
Lucretius 70
Cicero 72
Seneca 77
Tacitus 81
What the Romans Did Not Know 84
4. Light in the Dark Ages 86
The Fall of Rome 86
Post-Roman Europe 88
The Triumph of Christianity: Constantine the Great 91
The Promise of Christianity: Augustine 92
After the Fall 95
5. The Middle Ages: The Great Experiment 98
The Struggle for Subsistence 98
A World of Enemies 99
The Problem of God 100
The Science of Theology 100
Theology in Other Religions 102
Principles of Theocracy 103
Empire and Papacy 105
Monasticism 106
Crusaders 109
Millennial Fears, Postmillennial Achievements 110
The Dispute about Truth 112
Boethius 113
Pseudo-Dionysius 113
Avicenna 114
Peter Abelard 115
Bernard of Clairvaux 116
Averroes 117
Thomas Aquinas 119
The Pyrrhic Victory of Faith over Reason 122
Dante's Dance 124
6. What Was Reborn in the Renaissance? 127
The New Style in Painting: Perspective 128
Man in the Cosmos 129
The Revival of Classical Learning: Petrarch 130
Inventing the Renaissance: Boccaccio 132
The Renaissance Man 134
Renaissance Men: Leonardo, Pico, Bacon 137
The Renaissance Man and the Ideal of Liberal Education 141
Renaissance Humanism 142
Montaigne 144
Shakespeare 146
Cervantes 148
The Black Death 151
Gutenberg's Achievement 153
Renaissance Cities 155
Nation-States 156
The Crisis of the Theocratic State 158
Erasmus 159
Thomas More 160
Henry VIII 161
Martin Luther 163
Tolerance and Intolerance 165
Man at the Center 166
7. Europe Reaches Out 168
Mongol Empires 169
Marco Polo 170
Voyages of Discovery 172
Columbus 174
Sailing Around the World 177
The Birth of World Trade 178
Trade in Ideas 179
Homage to Columbus 182
8. The Invention of Scientific Method 184
The Meaning of Science 184
Three Characteristics of Science 187
Aristotelian Science: Matter 190
Aristotelian Motion 191
The Revolt Against Aristotle 192
Copernicus 195
Tycho Brahe 196
Gilbert 197
Kepler 198
Galileo 199
Descartes 203
Newton 205
Rules of Reason 209
The Galilean-Cartesian Revolution 211
9. An Age of Revolutions 213
The Industrial Revolution 213
Human Machines and Mechanical Humans 214
An Age of Reason and Revolution 216
John Locke and the Revolution of 1688 218
Property, Government, and Revolution 220
Two Kinds of Revolution 222
Thomas Jefferson and the Revolution of 1776 223
The Declaration of Independence 224
Property in Rights 226
Robespierre, Napoleon, and the Revolution of 1789 228
The Rise of Equality 232
Mozart's Don Giovanni 234
Goethe's Faust 238
10. The Nineteenth Century: Prelude to Modernity 243
The Difference Money Makes 244
Economic Life Before 1800: The Peasant 245
The Lord 247
The Cleric 248
The King 248
The Merchant 249
The Rise of the Labor Market: Economics 251
Faustian Development 255
Marxism: Theory and Practice 257
Marxian Insights 261
Economic Facts: Steam Power 264
Equality in the Muzzle of a Gun 266
The Magic of Electricity 269
Magical Mathematics 271
New Ways of Seeing 273
The End of Slavery 275
Shocking the Bourgeoisie 278
Darwin and Freud 280
11. The World in 1914 284
Economic Divisions 284
The Study of War 285
Colonialism 287
The Boer War 289
The Powder Keg of Europe 289
Character of the 1914-1918 War 291
Thoughts on War and Death 292
Causes of War 295
12. The Twentieth Century: The Triumph of Democracy 297
The Progress of Democracy 299
Communism 304
Totalitarianism 307
Theocracy in the Twentieth Century 311
Economic Justice 313
Why Not World Government? 314
One World, One Human Race 317
13. The Twentieth Century: Science and Technology 321
Greek Atomic Theory 321
The Revival of Atomic Theory 323
What Einstein Did 325
What the Bomb Taught Us 327
The Problem of Life 328
The Science of Heredity 329
How DNA Works 330
The Size of the Universe 332
Galaxies 332
The Smallness of Earth 334
The Big Bang and the Primordial Atom 334
Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle 337
Uncertainties of Knowledge 338
One Giant Step 341
Green Rebellion 342
The Terrestrial Greenhouse 343
Digital Computers and Knowledge 345
Turing Machines 348
Technological Dependence 350
Triumphs of Medicine 351
Drug Cultures 353
The AIDS Challenge 354
14. The Twentieth Century: Art and the Media 356
The Media and Their Messages 356
A Visual Revolution: Picasso, Braque, Cubism 359
Pollock, Rothko, and the Hexagonal Room 361
Urban Revolution: The Bauhaus and Le Corbusier 363
Literary Prophets: Yeats 365
A Passage to India 366
The Castle and the Magician 367
Waiting for Godot 369
Mass Media and Education 370
15. The Next Hundred Years 375
Computers: The Next Stage 377
The Moral Problem of Intelligent Machines 379
Companion Computers 379
The Birth of Thinking Machines 381
Three Worlds: Big, Little, Middle-sized 383
Chaos, a New Science 384
Mining Language: Ideonomy 386
Exploring the Solar System 387
The Message? 390
Man as a Terrestrial Neighbor 392
The Gaia Hypothesis 395
Genetic Engineering 397
Eugenics 398
Mapping the Genome 400
Democracy and Eugenics 402
Speed 403
Addictions 406
War in the Twenty-first Century 408
Computer Revolt 410
Index 413
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2005

    Great book when used properly

    I agree that this book both vast in its scope, yet limited in its execution. However, Van Doren wonderfully presents the Western narrative. The section using 'Faust' to explain how the worlds before and after 1800 are not the same is brilliant. His writing style shines in his description of Galileo and Bellarmine--again brilliant, he shows why Galileo is significant while revealing the larger faith/science tension of the 17th century. Van Doren did not try to write the definitive version or these eras. Rather he tries to encapsulate its Zeitgeist in a few stories that are a window unto a larger era. Van Doren doesn't try to hide his opinion like or present a completely objective account of the West. Get a textbook if you want one d@mn fact after another. Get this book if you want to crawl into a scholar's mind and see one possible construction of the story of the past.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2005

    Partialistic History of Knowledge

    Mr Doren is either completely obsessed with West's achievement or fully ignorant of East's accomplishments. In either case, the title of his book deserves 'A West's History of West's Knowledge: West's Past, West's Present and West's Future'. As per one author's recommendation I put this book in my wish-list and waited for 2 years before getting the opportunity to read this. But, the reading was disappointing because the covered history is not exhaustive! The book failed to portray, at least to the reasonable extent, few of the great civilizations of East, like Chinese, Indian etc.. The book hardly had few references about them. While so many facts covered by this book are truly admirable as achievements of human beings, this book fails to encompass all knowledge from all parts of the globe!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2004

    Annoying and glib

    I admit that I only made it through the first chapter before giving up, but I found this one of the worst books on the subject of history or knowledge. As a history prof looking for books to excite students, I was not happy with his knowledge. The Incas did too invent the wheel, they just used them on toys since they lived in mountains without flat roads and large draft animals! That was only one of the many things that made me want to put in a review.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2001

    Do not buy this book!

    This book was interesting and full of facts and insight...However, I would not recommend anything written by VAn Doren. This guy is a wacko.!!! I say this because when he is talking about exploring our solar system he talks of Mars and states, '...a world so ancient its last living thing died before life emerged on our own planet.' Mr. Van Doren is undeniably well read, highly learned, and even a good writer(that is, he is easy to understand has a good 'style'), however, to make such a bold and sweeping statement with no emperical evidence whatsoever is careless at best. If you would like to read about human knowledge there are many works available, just don't read this one.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2000

    History has never been more Exciting

    It is the greatest book on knowledge that i have ever read. The author is very well renoun in his works.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2000

    Does exactly what it sets out to do.

    This book does exactly what it sets out to do. While some may argue that it is only a compilation of 'Western' thought, this is untrue for many reasons. It shows how western civilization has influenced, and been influenced by, the world at large. It doesn't act as if western thought is the origin of knowledge. In fact, it doesn't recognize the existence of knowledge period, only the culturally relative aspects that have influenced the world up to present. Being that Eastern philosophies have always shunned the world at large, it is hard to say that this book has excluded Eastern philosophies as much as Eastern philosophy has excluded itself. All in all, this is a great reference tool for those wanting to know how the paradigms of today came to be. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2000

    A History of 'Western' Knowledge

    This book doesn't quite accomplish what its title promises to. After reading through all the chapters, I felt that I had been given a very good overview of how things came to be the way they are for western thought. Anything not traditionally thought of as the West has been mostly ignored throughout. Sure, there are token chapters devoted to the Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese, and Arabs, but nothing beyond that. Chinese civilization and thought was advanced way before anything approaching it appeared in the Old World, but no in depth examinations are made. Nothing is said of Arabic studies in astronomy, medicine, and history, though philosophy is mentioned. Same goes for the Egyptians. With that said, I think the book is a great read if one is trying to understand the History of Knowledge in the West. There is expansive coverage of the Greeks, the Romans, the Middle Ages of Europe, the Renaissance, and so on. During this, the author provides some incisive comments and thoughts on the way things are now and ties them to the great events that occurred in Western thinking.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)