Cover image for A history of knowledge : past, present, and future
A history of knowledge : past, present, and future
Van Doren, Charles Lincoln, 1926-
Publication Information:
Secaucus, NJ : Carol Pub. Group, 1991.
Physical Description:
xxv, 422 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A Birch Lane Press book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
AZ221 .V36 1991 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Readability is the inherent expository problem of this encyclopedic history of ideas in Western civilization (excluding the ancient religions). Van Doren, once editorial director of the Encyclopedia Britannica, manages surprisingly well. Of course, the book's no page-turner: only a handful of self-educated types and bookish teenagers will read in toto these synopses of the careers of great thinkers--Van Doren's choice, by the way, includes no interlopers to the canon, the table of contents listing only white European males and Buddha--their cultural and scientific ideas, and events (e.g., the Black Death, voyages of discovery) that influenced them. But the author's unmistakable character, unfeigned interest in ideas, and admirable endeavor to serve laypersons without unduly offending scholars entice readers to forgive his donnish wit, read the sections that precede and follow the one they started with, and then browse more widely. A useful and engaging guide. To be indexed. ~--Roland Wulbert

Publisher's Weekly Review

Van Doren has a gift for the felicitous turn of phrase. On photography: ``The camera catches us in the act of being human.'' On Marxism: ``More than a billion persons are ruled in the name of something that does not yet and may never exist.'' A readable refresher course in Western civilization, his account extends from the dawn of recorded history at Sumer to tomorrow's computers, which may be ``true thinking machines.'' Former editorial director of Encyclopedia Britannica , Van Doren ( The Joy of Reading ) also proffers peculiar or controversial opinions--for example, his portrayal of Columbus as a ``probably mad'' monomaniac. On balance, this delightful mini-encyclopedia provokes as much as it informs, with meditations on topics ranging from Socrates's concept of human equality to Mozart, Kafka, the Big Bang, mass media and AIDS. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Van Doren, once editorial director of the Encyclopedia Brittanica , has produced a miniature encyclopedia, organized to show that there is progress in knowledge. He praises Columbus for giving us ``a world well on the way to the unity it experiences today.'' India is mentioned as the source of the caste system. The Chinese gave us Confucius, but Van Doren notes their main legacy seems to be good recipes for tyranny. He warns that some good knowledge is unpleasant: we must now control our technology. Ultimately, the best knowledge for him is Western scientific knowledge since it is cumulative, meaning that better theories nearly always replace worse ones. An avid reader of Popular Mechanics who went to sleep in Peoria, Illinois in 1920 and awoke today with this book in her/his hands would probably find their ideals intact, needing only new technical knowledge and preparation for Van Doren's predicted revolt of intelligent machines. Van Doren has distilled the ideology of scientific progress into a neat, short drink that should win him a place on every library shelf.-- Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa, Canada (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.