A History of Knowledge: Past, Present and Future - The pivotal events, people and achievements of world history

I finished this a couple weeks ago...a really fantastic book.   It reads almost like an extended series of Smithsonian articles, examining, chronologically from ancient to modern times, the people responsible for, highlights of, ongoing interrelationships between, and social impacts resulting from the progression of science & technology, the arts, religious & political thought and hierarchies, economics, and philosophy, among other things.

Bringing together so much information, and presenting it so clearly and compactly, is a remarkable achievement.   The book was never dry. Van Doren always seemed to have an insight I'd not encountered, even on subject matter with which I'm at least passably familiar, and he balances a certain lightness of tone and cautious optimism with a wry acknowledgment of some truly ugly facts.   He could have easily run off on any of dozens of tangents, but he chose sparingly which points to elaborate on, and he cuts quickly to the heart of those.

The book touches on so many fascinating subjects that I may have to skim through it again, taking some notes along the way.   More than once I found myself putting the book down to head to my computer and track down some more information on this subject or that person.

When a book is enlightening, that's something; when it's entertaining, that's also something; sometimes you find one that's both, and this is one of them.   Great book.

Interesting aside: I borrowed this book from my dad, who informed me the author (Charles Van Doren) has the dubious honor of being the "contestant" on the rigged 1950s game show "Twenty One" (info here).

The end of the book concerns "current" affairs, and Van Doren's predictions for the next 100 years or so.   As the book was written nearly 20 years ago, it's an interesting perspective.   More info on amazon.com.

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