The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

by Simon Winchester
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The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom by Simon Winchester

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061795886
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/17/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 222,136
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.


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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Man Who Loved China 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was absolutely captivated reading Simon Winchester's 'The Man Who Loved China.' While reading the book you're thinking this might be just a very interesting look into the life of a very eccentric scholar. At the finish you are overwhelmed with the largeness and scope of what Mr. Winchester has documented that explaines the what and why China evolved the way it did.....and to give pause and possible insight to the reader that this might be the evolutionary path of all progressive nations....even our very own. It was quite an eye opener. If you like reading historical 19th and 20th century tales, you will find it difficult to put this book down.
The_Iceman More than 1 year ago
This seminal work, this magnum opus, Needham's life work - spanning 50 years in the preparation and still incomplete at his death in 1995 - was, in essence, to burst the bubble of the West's parochial conceit that we are the birthplace of all that is important in science and technology. Life as an accomplished, well-respected biochemist on the faculty of Cambridge University simply wasn't enough for the awesome intellect of an insatiable polymath like Joseph Needham. His love affair with the history of the Middle Kingdom began concurrently with a blossoming extra-marital love for Lu Gwei-djen, one of his students. This affair, conducted in a curiously open manner for such a staunchly staid, conservative and venerable institution as Cambridge, was, equally curiously, accepted and tolerated by Dorothy Needham, his wife and scientific colleague, for the duration of all three of their lives. As Lu Gwei-djen taught him her language, Needham dove headlong into an intense exploration of China's rich, sophisticated and exciting culture and history. "The Man Who Loved China" is Needham's exciting story that reads with all the intensity and passion of the most exciting thrillers - the story of the birth of his love for all things Chinese; his initial explorations of a Chinese countryside torn by war with imperial Japan in the 1940s that were frequently fraught with adventure and even danger; his discovery of the astonishing history of Chinese intellectual wealth whose advancements in science and technology pre-dated those of the west by hundreds of years; and his political missteps as he is branded a Communist by McCarthy's propaganda machine and banished from the USA. Winchester also delves deeply into the scientific exploration of what has come to be called the "Needham question", the curious fact that despite China's prior ability to advance at an almost dizzying speed in such diverse fields as printing, explosives, navigation, hydraulics, ceramics and statecraft, its intellectual capacity fell into an almost completely moribund torpor around the time of the Renaissance, precisely the time when science in the west began the current acceleration which, for all intents and purposes, has never slowed down! Simon Winchester has also taken us one step beyond Needham's work. In a wonderful compelling epilogue, readers are treated to an informative tour of contemporary China and left with the open-ended question as to whether its newly accelerating pace of development will continue and how China will interact with other nations on the world stage. As readable as any novel, "The Man Who Loved China" is brilliantly organized, wonderfully paced, and more than complete enough while it also cleverly sidesteps the biographer's mind-numbing trap of listing tedious arcane details. Exciting narrative descriptions of action sequences, near poetic passages of scenery, cityscapes, sights and smells that seem to vividly leap off of the page directly into the reader's minds-eye and even realistic dialogue, make Winchester's wo
adbond More than 1 year ago
Loved the book. As usual, Winchester's storytelling and information is unparalleled. I have one issue: I read the book on my new nook, and the footnotes appear to be inaccessible. I researched ways to read notes and all the suggested ways to do so were unavailable on this version of the ebook. Again, the book is tremendous, and there are not a excessive amount of footnotes, so I wouldn't want anyone to not read the book, but either confirm that the footnotes are fixed or get a bound copy of the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We are traveling to China this summer and Joseph Needham's travels during World War II have absolutely nothing to do with what we should expect! This book, however, gives us plenty of insight into the vast contributions to civilization made by the Chinese over many, many centuries. Needham undertakes an exacting project and has just the right personality and work ethic to see it through. He is also an eccentric, socialist, genius of a man which makes the book even more compelling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read about ancient Chinese technology and a great introduction to Chinese culture to novices. It is also a fascinating examination of a brillant, eccentric scienctist, Joseph Needham. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in China and scienece in general.
harstan More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating biography of Cambridge University biochemist Joseph Needham. Although married to a scientific peer Dorothy, he fell in love with a student Lu Gwei-djen in the 1930s. She taught him her language and her love for her culture. Needham began exploring the country even as the war with Japan in the late 1930s and 1940s made it unsafe for anyone especially a British professor. Still he continued his travels and soon began to uncover the incredible historical intellect of China, investing new technologies and learning scientific secrets centuries before the west. His efforts led to McCarthy naming him a Communist and banning him from America. That did not stop him as he searched for why an anomaly occurred; while the Renaissance reawakened scientific curiosity in the West, in China suddenly scientific discovery ended. Known as the "Needham Question", this remains unresolved as China explodes into the modern world at am exponential pace that mirrors what it once did during the Middle Kingdom. This is a terrific biography.--------------- Harriet Klausner
wanderman More than 1 year ago
I've read several of Simon Winchester's works and this is on a par with his best. He takes an interesting character and recounts an epic adventure in China. His "Professor and The Madman", "Krakatoa" and "Crack in the Edge of The World" were great but this story just flows from his pen like no other. Truly one of the GREAT authors of our time!
Charlottes-son More than 1 year ago
Finely presented and accurately portrayed of Mr Needham. This is as others have said, "Captivating", and "a seminal work", regarding China as a growing nation. The development of China through its history and the development of this man Needham are well illustrated. It is a fine read and i love to share this book around.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's too bad this is a readable book, because it is poor history. The notion that Joseph Needham heroically discovered China and particularly Chinese science in the 1940s -- the theme loudly promoted by this study -- is vastly overstated. There are far more historically informed accounts of Westerners in China, who interacted with the Chinese in a scientific way, including many works by Jonathan Spence, Mary Bullock (her several books on the Rockefeller Foundation in China beginning in 1915), and multiple scholarly studies of Christian medical missionaries who worked in tandem with indigenous medicine. If Winchester's book might be defended on the grounds that Needham was more sympathetic to Chinese science than contemporaneous Westerners, that argument strikes me as weak. To be sure, many Westerners took a patronizing attitude toward Chinese science, but Needham comes across in this book as an unpleasantly arrogant, egotistical man, and a misogenist as well. He seems to be the T. E. Lawrence of World War II-era China, captivating but hardly heroic, as Winchester claims. Winchester's shrill promoting of Needham as some kind of hero ruins what might otherwise have been an informative story.
BrianGriffith More than 1 year ago
Winchester's account of Joseph Needham shows a Needham-esque fascination with intricate detail -- be it the social world of Edwardian England or the topography of western China. At the same time, the author shares Needham's enthusiasm for enormous questions -- How much does the Western world owe to Eastern ingenuity? What accounts for the flaring up or dying down of a society's intellectual drive? All told, the book gives a highly thought-provoking love story. You gotta admire a guy whose passion for a Chinese woman led him to tear down walls of prejudice between civilizations. --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
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If you've ever read anything by Winchester this will not be a disappointment. He has a way of bringing to life and enlightening that few others would attempt.