An impressive conclusion to a grand trilogy. . .The three books together [
The Seekers, The Creators and The Discoverers] bring to mind a monumental library whose facade is decorated by statues of Moses, Socrates and Newton and whose reading room is framed by murals depicting the Progress of Technology and Law. In an age of Alexandrian pedantry and narrow specialization in the academy, Boorstin has slowly and carefully built a Library of Alexandria open to the public, a library, that is, without walls.
The Discoverers (1983), Boorstin introduced readers to scientists, explorers, historians and other pursuers of knowledge. Ten years later, The Creators did the same for innovators in art. "We glory in their discoveries and creations," he writes in the introduction to his latest, "But we are all Seekers. We all want to know why." Starting from that perhaps overbroad premise, Boorstin begins with an examination of Hebrew prophets and Greek philosophers--those who seek from a higher authority and those who seek from within. From this point on there are rather few religious seekers; instead most are philosophers of systems, of systems for discovering truth (the reason of Descartes, the empiricism of Locke, the individual experience of Kierkegaard) or for describing it (the encyclopedia of Diderot, the cultural cycles of Spengler, Hegel's World-Spirit). Certain subjects seem rather out of place, and chapters like that on H.G. Wells and John Reed, another on Oliver Wendell Holmes and E.O. Wilson; and individual chapters on Samuel Beckett, Lord Acton and Andre Malraux, have the feel of an insatiable polymath's chapbook. There are many movements, many people and many big ideas here, all expounded with Boorstin's characteristic enthusiasm and breadth of knowledge. It's perhaps inevitable that in such a broad survey some simplification would slip in--e.g., identifying 13th-century universities as centers for training gentlemen, rather than for offering professional training in theology, law and medicine. But what Boorstin does so well is bring together many ideas that fertilize and cross-fertilize the reader's imagination and curiosity. Author tour. (Sept.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is former Library of Congress chief Boorstin's third book in a series that includes The Discoverers and The Creators. The three overlap like shingles, says Boorstin, and share a time frame "from antiquity to the present." He does not lay claim to all the answers: "we see how we have come from seeking meaning to finding meaning in the seeking." He begins by pointing to the biblical seers and prophets, who began, as did many ancients, with efforts to divine the future, then segued to speaking for God. Under the rubric of "seeking," he traces the phenomenon through the Greek philosophers, then through the Christian movement in both its Catholic and Protestant permutations. In the second half of the book, he moves to communal search, where, despite his use of the word communal, he continues to focus on individuals as they evolved methods of learning. He devotes chapters to thinkers most educated persons would recognize: Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Virgil, Thomas More, Francis Bacon, and Descartes. He discusses "The Liberal Way," which includes Machiavelli, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson, and Hegel. He moves on to those who articulated modern ideas of progress: Marx, Darwin, Spengler, Toynbee. "Sanctuaries of Doubt" are exemplified by Carlyle, Emerson, Kierkegaard, and James. The process of seeking continued through Acton, Malraux, Bergson, and Einstein. There is an interesting range as various disciplines pushed themselves to the fore: religion, philosophy, reason, science, politics, sociology. Boorstin gives an interesting perspective on how ideas have shaped human history and destiny. He does not deal with non-western cultures except as the western impactsthem. He does not project a longing for things as they once were; he sees seeking as an exciting process that will continue. This book will serve well in overviews of the history of significant ideas and their impact on the development of human society. AP high school students will find it accessible because it links abstract ideas to persons and events. All willing to devote some effort will find it an intriguing way to interpret their world today. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1998, Random House/Vintage, 351p, 21cm, 98-15430, $14.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Edna M. Boardman; former Lib. Media Spec., Magic City Campus, Minot, ND, July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
In this third volume of a trilogy that began with The Discoverers (LJ 3/1/85) and The Creators (LJ 8/92), Boorstin (formerly Librarian of Congress) is concerned with those seekers of the Western world whom he finds most helpful in his search for meaning and purpose in history. This is an account, generally chronological, of how the Western world's heritage of ideas of meaning and purpose was shaped by the thinking of the great philosophers and religious leaders from ancient times to the present. Until the rise of scientific thinking in the 17th century, Boorstin observes, answers were sought from history and human events, but in modern times, ideologies and dogmas overcame that way of thinking. The writing has a sweeping, didactic tone. A suitable but not mandatory choice for academic and larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/98.]--Harry Frumerman, formerly with Hunter Coll., New York
YA-The Seekers is the final book of Boorstin's trilogy, the previous two being The Discoverers (1983) and The Creators (1992, both Random). In his earlier volumes, the author recounts "our legacy of the sciences and the arts...discoveries and creations." This book deals with the question of our existence and the great figures in history who have probed its mysteries. "Book One: An Ancient Heritage" includes the prophets (Moses, Isaiah, Job); the philosophers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle); early Christianity (church, monastery, and university); and Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin. "Book Two: Communal Search" deals with Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Virgil, Thomas More, Bacon, Descartes, Machiavelli, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson, and Hegel. "Book Three: Paths to the Future" brings us into the 20th century with Marx, Spengler, Toynbee, Carlyle, Emerson, Kierkegaard, William James, Acton, Malraux, and Bergson, and concludes with Einstein. Boorstin's engaging narrative will help young adults unravel the arcane literature of the past and perhaps spark interest in subjects otherwise thought beyond their reach.-Pamela B. Rearden, Centreville Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Unabashedly Eurocentric, unashamedly positivist, and surprisingly short, Boorstin's follow-up to his bestselling
The Discoverers (1983) and The Creators (1992) addresses the history of ideas as though it were a two-millennia brainstorming session.
At about half the length of his previous volumes of intellectual history,
The Seekers is no less encyclopedic in its overall structure but considerably less detailed and encompassing. In tackling Western thought with his characteristic vividness and clarity, Boorstin divides up his history into three sections: antiquity's foundations in the biblical, classical, and medieval traditions; the evolution of political science from Thucydides and Machiavelli to Rousseau; and modern thinkers' branching quests for truth, whether Emerson's Transcendentalism or William James's pragmatism. Though Boorstin has equal attraction to the charms of medieval and Enlightenment thought and as much liking for Thomas Aquinas as Lord Acton, the book's highlight comes early in the Hellenic age. His stimulating chronicle of the intellectual lineage of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, put Boorstin's talents for sketching character and revivifying history on full display. Speeding through the following ages, Boorstin's summaries and simplifications keep up the pace of reading and advance the march of ideas, though one can argue with, say, his skimming over Marx's economic shortsightedness in favor of apocalyptic revolution or disregarding Einstein's unwillingness to accept quantum mechanics.
Given Boorstin's declared idiosyncratic approach, no reader should be surprised to find gaping omissions, such as Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell, whom Boorstin quotes extensively on other philosophers but otherwise ignores as to both his rigorous philosophical career and his restless, searching life. A readably sweeping history (with some sweeping generalizations) of the intellectual move from "Why?" to "How?"