Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet

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Overview

“It has the power to wrench familiar aspects of history into new and surprising shapes.”—Laura Miller, Salon
Here is an intellectual extravaganza, a dazzling history of the key institutions that have shaped and channeled knowledge in the West from the classical period to the present. Fashioned with elegance and wit, this exhilarating survey carries us through the pivotal points of institutional change and cultural transformation. It is full of memorable characters, from the flamboyant founder of the great library at Alexandria and the arrogant medieval logician Peter Abelard to the dashing global adventurer von Humboldt. In its compact history we find the perfect context for understanding the vast changes we are experiencing now in the landscape of knowledge.
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Editorial Reviews

New Scientist
“An inspiring read.”
The Scotsman
“A sprightly, stimulating and surprising study.”
Austin Chronicle
“An impressively cohesive story that is full of delightful characters and fascinating details.”
Times Higher Education
“A magnificent overview of the history of knowledge production in the West.”
VOYA - Etienne Vallee
The book has enjoyed ubiquitous presence in the modern world, and although threatened by the expansion of the Internet, it remains humankind's most effective repository of knowledge. McNeely and Wolverton, both associate professors at the University of Oregon, attempt to condense the history of the transmission of knowledge, tracing a journey from the earliest Greek and Roman oral traditions to the virtual world in which we now live. Among the many stops on this trip, the use of loose-leaf sheets assembled, bound, and opening down the middle represented an advancement both for the reader and the writer in its ease of use and reproducibility. The authors succinctly achieve their well-researched and thoroughly documented survey of knowledge in a readable and engaging style. They highlight the accomplishments that the personalities involved, such as Marie Curie and Plato, took to spread and develop knowledge and a better understanding of the world. A good addition to the high school or public library, this book will appeal to senior high students and librarians, as well as other adults interested in how books and the propagation of knowledge evolved throughout the ages. Of particular interest are the many anecdotes, as well as the book's elaborate cast of historical characters, many of them women, who contributed to secure the book's perennial role in society, a function now challenged by the Internet. Reviewer: Etienne Vallee
Kirkus Reviews
An intelligent, provocative history of institutions that preserve and disseminate information. McNeely and Wolverton (History/Univ. of Oregon) discuss six, beginning with the library. The great library founded in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century BCE was actually a break with tradition, they note. Ancient Greek society was based on oral traditions, and not everyone was in favor of collecting written knowledge. Books are untrustworthy, Socrates insisted, because their contents are detached from the actions, honor and character of whoever wrote them. He wasn't entirely wrong, the authors maintain. Readers often grant undeserved authority to the written word, and even today nonsense competes with wisdom in all assemblies of information, the Internet most of all. On the other hand, writing is durable, so libraries caught on. In chronological order, the narrative moves on to the monastery, the university, the Republic of Letters, the disciplines and the laboratory. While other writers extol monasteries for preserving ancient texts during the Dark Ages, McNeely and Wolverton point out that monks devoted almost all their copying to Christian documents; the Islamic culture that arose after 600 CE did a better job of preserving ancient classics. The first universities, products of increasing prosperity in the 12th century, were simply urban collections of scholars and students; hundreds of years passed before construction produced the great institutions that remain today. Universities combined with moveable type and the Renaissance after 1450 to produce the Republic of Letters, an explosion of humanist thinkers who exchanged information throughout Europe in their common language, Latin. Somuch knowledge had accumulated by the 18th century that serious academics had to specialize and hence, the disciplines appeared. Throughout history, educated men studied what was already known; the Enlightenment launched a revolution with writers and scientists who took an interest in new knowledge. Laboratories produced a trickle then an avalanche of technical breakthroughs accompanied by a mass of information and information technology that today threatens to overwhelm us. Stimulating and witty-intellectual entertainment at its best.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393337716
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/8/2009
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 978,549
  • Product dimensions: 5.56 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian F. McNeely teaches at the University of Oregon and lives in Eugene.

Lisa Wolverton teaches at the University of Oregon and lives in Eugene.

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Table of Contents

1 The Library 1

2 The Monastery 37

3 The University 77

4 The Republic of Letters 119

5 The Disciplines 161

6 The Laboratory 205

Conclusion 251

Acknowledgments 275

Notes 277

Index 303

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 29, 2012

    Reinventing Knowledge is an interesting book that does cover how

    Reinventing Knowledge is an interesting book that does cover how we have evolved in learning. Though it states that it covers from Alexandria to the Internet, the actual chapters only covers through the Laboratory period and reading the conclusion you get the understanding of where the Internet comes to play.
    I found this as a useful book to understand how knowledge has been transformed and has a great flow in the earlier chapters, but in the last chapter I felt a little rushed and confused with the amount of information and how it kept skipping around.
    Overall, it was a good book with very interesting knowledge of how everything came about in the evolution of knowledge and how it has been interpreted over the years.

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

    Posted March 26, 2012

    Not Recommended

    I was required to read this book for an Honors class, and from the start the book was not what I expected. I felt that this book was more suited for a history class. The book is broken down, where each chapter is explaining a certain time period, and a certain organization, as it slowly progresses through time. The book can be very choppy and hard to understand at times, I often had to refer to a dictionary to look up the words that I didn’t know. I frequently found myself falling asleep or getting bored in the beginning pages of each chapter. Each chapter was rather long, starting at around thirty pages, and then increasing in amount each chapter.It also took a ton of time to read it, with all the new words and long chapters. If you enjoy learning about history and how the way communication has changed over the years, than this would be a good book to read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 14, 2012

    I've never before read a book that covers the history of storing

    I've never before read a book that covers the history of storing, transporting and learning information. This is a great academic text, with great historical references. It shares with us how knowledge was preserved, which was and is vital to our future.
    It begins with the library. We learn about the positives and how libraries suffered. This paved the way for the monastery, which introduced knowledge based exclusively around a theology.
    With the introduction of the university we learn about how universities were like big business leading to colleges for "the regular people." The Republic of Letters speaks of a group of people who learned to efficiently transport information through letters. This was the first network, paving the way for further democratization of information. The disciplines and the laboratory both introduced specialties as a possibility to scholars.
    I would have to say the introduction and the first chapter were very uninteresting, but after that the book flowed well, and I really enjoyed it and would recommend it for research assignments and history buffs.

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  • Posted March 12, 2012

    Recommend

    After reading "Reinventing Knowledge" by McNeely & Wolverton from cover to cover; I was able to completely put all the pieces of this intruiging puzzle together.This book was very interesting although it does read more like a scholarly history book than something smooth like a novel. At times it was very difficult to get through the pages due to some unccomon word use that required I spend a bit of time researching and flipping through the dictionary pages to find the meanings.
    If you are looking to open your mind and further your knowledge in the basics behind how knowledge has been preserved, changed,reinvented and made more portibal throughout history then this is a great book to pick up. However, like i stated previously this does read more like an academic book so if you dont have a long attention span this may not be the best choice since many chapters reached upto 30 pages in length.
    Overall very interesting and a bit time consuming.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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