The Polymath: A Cultural History from Leonardo da Vinci to Susan Sontag

The Polymath: A Cultural History from Leonardo da Vinci to Susan Sontag

by Peter Burke


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From Leonardo Da Vinci to Oliver Sacks: the first history of the western polymath, from the Renaissance to the present 

"An absorbing group portrait and intellectual history."—Kirkus Reviews

"An admirable mixture of industry and erudition."—Robert Wilson, Wall Street Journal

From Leonardo Da Vinci to John Dee and Comenius, from George Eliot to Oliver Sacks and Susan Sontag, polymaths have moved the frontiers of knowledge in countless ways. But history can be unkind to scholars with such encyclopedic interests. All too often these individuals are remembered for just one part of their valuable achievements.  

In this engaging, erudite account, renowned cultural historian Peter Burke argues for a more rounded view. Identifying 500 western polymaths, Burke explores their wide-ranging successes and shows how their rise matched a rapid growth of knowledge in the age of the invention of printing, the discovery of the New World and the Scientific Revolution. It is only more recently that the further acceleration of knowledge has led to increased specialization and to an environment that is less supportive of wide-ranging scholars and scientists.

Spanning the Renaissance to the present day, Burke changes our understanding of this remarkable intellectual species.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300250022
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 09/08/2020
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 88,749
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Peter Burke is emeritus professor of cultural history at Cambridge University. He is the author of many books including A Social History of Knowledge, Eyewitnessing, and What Is Cultural History? His books have been translated into more than thirty languages.

Table of Contents

List of Plates viii

Preface and Acknowledgements x

Introduction: What is a Polymath? 1

1 East and West 10

2 The Age of the 'Renaissance Man', 1400-1600 26

3 The Age of 'Monsters of Erudition', 1600-1700 47

4 The Age of the 'Man of Letters', 1700-1850 83

5 The Age of Territoriality, 1850-2000 127

6 A Group Portrait 170

7 Habitats 191

8 The Age of Interdisciplinarity 213

Coda: Towards a Third Crisis 240

Appendix: 500 Western Polymaths 247

Notes 278

Further Reading 316

Index 318

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