Man Who Loved China
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Man Who Loved China

3.9 30
by Simon Winchester

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In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman ("Elegant and scrupulous"—New York Times Book Review) and Krakatoa ("A mesmerizing page-turner"—Time) brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked

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In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman ("Elegant and scrupulous"—New York Times Book Review) and Krakatoa ("A mesmerizing page-turner"—Time) brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world's most technologically advanced country.

No cloistered don, this tall, married Englishman was a freethinking intellectual, who practiced nudism and was devoted to a quirky brand of folk dancing. In 1937, while working as a biochemist at Cambridge University, he instantly fell in love with a visiting Chinese student, with whom he began a lifelong affair.

He soon became fascinated with China, and his mistress swiftly persuaded the ever-enthusiastic Needham to travel to her home country, where he embarked on a series of extraordinary expeditions to the farthest frontiers of this ancient empire. He searched everywhere for evidence to bolster his conviction that the Chinese were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar innovations—including printing, the compass, explosives, suspension bridges, even toilet paper—often centuries before the rest of the world. His thrilling and dangerous journeys, vividly recreated by Winchester, took him across war-torn China to far-flung outposts, consolidating his deep admiration for the Chinese people.

After the war, Needham was determined to tell the world what he had discovered, and began writing his majestic Science and Civilisation in China, describing the country's long and astonishing history of invention and technology. By the time he died, he had produced, essentially single-handedly, seventeen immense volumes, marking him as the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.

Both epic and intimate, The Man Who Loved China tells the sweeping story of China through Needham's remarkable life. Here is an unforgettable tale of what makes men, nations, and, indeed, mankind itself great—related by one of the world's inimitable storytellers.

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Editorial Reviews

Judith Shapiro
In The Man Who Loved China, Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman, builds on his success in writing about eccentric British intellectuals. Needham makes a great subject. A Cambridge University polymath who made his youthful mark as a biochemist, he was also a nudist, a performer of English folk dances involving ankle bells and sticks, an accordion player and an active Communist…In retelling Needham's story, Winchester focuses on the inventiveness of the Chinese people, whose creativity once surpassed that of all other civilizations. If this resourcefulness can be renewed and harnessed in the service of sustainability, then perhaps there is hope not only for China but for the planet.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Simon Winchester's reading, like his clear, concise, graceful writing, reflects his endless fascination with his subject-the British scientist Joseph Needham-and with his subject's subject: Chinese scientists' every invention and contribution to every field of science over five centuries (before the West began to think of such things as the printing press and gunpowder). Winchester reads rapidly, but his diction is so precise (yet never stuffy) that not a word is lost. The vocal warmth and charm mirror his endless awe of Needham's lifetime work on his multivolume magnum opus on Chinese scientific thought. Winchester's tone reveals his delight with Needham's love affairs, his unconventional marriage and relation to his lifelong inamorata who first inspired his love of Chinese language, people and thought. As with every book he's written and narrated, Winchester makes abstruse subjects available and fascinating for every reader and listener. A Harper hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 10). (May)

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Library Journal

The masterpiece of the subtitle is Joseph Needham's Science and Civilization in China, a multivolume unfinished work documenting China's stupendous early achievements in science and technology. Winchester, the prolific British author of many acclaimed books (e.g., The Professor and the Madman), loses no momentum here. Needham (1900-95), a brilliant and somewhat eccentric Cambridge biochemist who became entranced with the study of China's early scientific advances, is well worth a biography, and Winchester is just the writer to undertake it. He explores Needham's fascinating and sometimes controversial personal life, his travels to China, and especially the significance and topicality of his scholarship on the early accomplishments of Chinese science and technology: why did China achieve so much so early, and why did it cease doing so for several centuries? Winchester carries the exploration further: now that China has resumed its technological advances, where will it take itself and the world? These are major questions superbly posed in an accessible and provocative book. Essential for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/08.]
—Harold M. Otness

Kirkus Reviews
Another formidable, absorbing reading experience by versatile Winchester (A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, 2005, etc.), this one about the British scholar who made China's contributions to civilization known in the West. Displaying the author's habitual ability to make any subject seem urgently momentous, this admiring biography of Joseph Needham (1900-95) will send many readers rushing off to read Needham's magnum opus, Science and Civilization in China, which catalogued the ancient empire's many inventions and discoveries in an ever-expanding series of volumes beginning in 1954. When the Cambridge biochemist first visited in 1943, most outsiders viewed civil-war-torn, Japanese-occupied China with what Winchester describes as "a mixture of disdain, contempt, and utter exasperation." Invited on an official mission to bolster the beleaguered scientific community, Needham already had a very different attitude, fostered by his lover and fellow biochemist, Lu Gwei-djen. She had come to Cambridge from Nanjing in 1937, just after the Japanese invasion, and "in falling headlong for Gwei-djen, Needham found that he also became enraptured by her country." She taught him to read, write and speak her language, which stood Needham in good stead during his three years traveling to some of the country's remotest regions, reveling in such marvels as the man-made cave in the Turkestan desert where the world's oldest printed book had been found in 1907. This adventurous period ended with his departure for England to help establish the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, intended to promote the kind of internationalcooperation in which he fervently believed. Cold War strictures soon led the staunchly socialist Needham to resign and return to Cambridge, where he devoted the next five decades to detailing China's historic innovations (gunpowder, printing and the compass, to name a few) and asking why these astonishing accomplishments failed to develop a modern, industrial state. Reflects its subject's passionate interests and makes scholarship positively sexy. Agent: Suzanne Gluck/William Morris Agency

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of The Men Who United The States, as well as the New York Times bestselling books The Professor and the Madman, Atlantic, Krakatoa, Crack in the Edge and more.

Brief Biography

New York; Massachusetts; Scotland
Date of Birth:
September 28, 1944
Place of Birth:
London, England
M.A., St. Catherine¿s College, Oxford, 1966

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