Simon Winchester, the author of The Man Who Loved China, is quite an accomplished writer. This book is the biography of Joseph Needham, a Cambridge professor who learned Chinese and traveled to China to learn about the history of science in China. While there, he discovered what the Western world did not know: that the Chinese had discovered many, many things way ahead of the Europeans. At the end of the book, Winchester compiled a list of Chinese discoveries and the year they were used in China for the first time.
Personally, I love biographies. Even if I don’t agree with the person’s morality or political leanings, I still love a well-written biography. In this case, I did not agree with Needham’s lifestyle choices (he had an open marriage) or his Communist leanings, but I enjoyed the book because I learned so much from it. Continue reading
For instance, I learned how we got the word gung ho into English; how Needham wrote his magnus opus, i.e. his many volumes of the history of science in China; how the British diplomatic corps was operated during the Second World War and afterwards; how Communism changed China from colorful to colorless; how the world diplomats handled each other in the wake of the Korean War; how the CIA would not grant Needham an American visa because of his Communist leanings, even though he was this brilliant scientist who was invited to come over for a brief seminar; how the S got put into UNESCO (hint: Needham had something to do with it); etc etc.
All in all a good book. A serious read. Winchester has done a tremendous amount of research on the subject and it shows.