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In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman ("Elegant and scrupulous"—New York Times Book Review) and Krakatoa ("A mesmerizing page-turner"—Time) brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world's most technologically advanced country.

No cloistered don, this tall, married Englishman was a freethinking intellectual, who practiced nudism and was devoted to a quirky brand of folk dancing. In 1937, while working as a biochemist at Cambridge University, he instantly fell in love with a visiting Chinese student, with whom he began a lifelong affair.

He soon became fascinated with China, and his mistress swiftly persuaded the ever-enthusiastic Needham to travel to her home country, where he embarked on a series of extraordinary expeditions to the farthest frontiers of this ancient empire. He searched everywhere for evidence to bolster his conviction that the Chinese were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar innovations—including printing, the compass, explosives, suspension bridges, even toilet paper—often centuries before the rest of the world. His thrilling and dangerous journeys, vividly recreated by Winchester, took him across war-torn China to far-flung outposts, consolidating his deep admiration for the Chinese people.

After the war, Needham was determined to tell the world what he had discovered, and began writing his majestic Science and Civilisation in China, describing the country's long and astonishing history of invention and technology. By the time he died, he had produced, essentially single-handedly, seventeen immense volumes, marking him as the greatest one-man encyclopedist ever.

Both epic and intimate, The Man Who Loved China tells the sweeping story of China through Needham's remarkable life. Here is an unforgettable tale of what makes men, nations, and, indeed, mankind itself great—related by one of the world's inimitable storytellers.

Topics: Communism, Chinese History, World War II, Innovation, Love, Mao Zedong, Adventurous, Romantic, Multiple Perspectives, China, England, Based on a True Story, Creative Nonfiction, and Travelogue

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061795886
List price: $10.99
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Being a fan of science and Asian things, this book fits nicely into my interests. Winchester gives us the life of an extraordinary man who was fascinated by the scientific inventions of China and posed the "Needham question" which was to ponder why these advances ceased around 1500, about the time scientific advances started in Europe. Joseph Needham was an adventurer, a lover, a scholar, and a left-wing activist. Any one of these would be enough to fill a book. All of them together made for a totally satisfying read.more
A fascinating story, although unfortunately many of the author's prejudices make for jarring reading at times.more
Brilliant! part history book, part encyclopaedia and a thoroughly worthwhile read.more
A book about a man that wrote a book doesn't exactly sound like a formula for an entertaining work but Winchester pulls it off. It tells the story of Joseph Needham who spent his 90something years writing the definitive history of Science & Civilisation in China which he typed with 2 fingers. While it does read like a pop history book and has been consequently criticised on those grounds, it does filter a huge amount of information to a layman like myself. The fact remains that here is the story of a biochemist who debunked the idea that until recently China had no history of thought or technological innovation. His proof that China predated for example the printing press at 868 is food for thought as a reminder that our knowledge of history is constantly changing and it is wrong to assume that the Eurocentric slant we are given is definitive. Regardless, this is a good biography of an interesting man.more
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Reviews

Being a fan of science and Asian things, this book fits nicely into my interests. Winchester gives us the life of an extraordinary man who was fascinated by the scientific inventions of China and posed the "Needham question" which was to ponder why these advances ceased around 1500, about the time scientific advances started in Europe. Joseph Needham was an adventurer, a lover, a scholar, and a left-wing activist. Any one of these would be enough to fill a book. All of them together made for a totally satisfying read.more
A fascinating story, although unfortunately many of the author's prejudices make for jarring reading at times.more
Brilliant! part history book, part encyclopaedia and a thoroughly worthwhile read.more
A book about a man that wrote a book doesn't exactly sound like a formula for an entertaining work but Winchester pulls it off. It tells the story of Joseph Needham who spent his 90something years writing the definitive history of Science & Civilisation in China which he typed with 2 fingers. While it does read like a pop history book and has been consequently criticised on those grounds, it does filter a huge amount of information to a layman like myself. The fact remains that here is the story of a biochemist who debunked the idea that until recently China had no history of thought or technological innovation. His proof that China predated for example the printing press at 868 is food for thought as a reminder that our knowledge of history is constantly changing and it is wrong to assume that the Eurocentric slant we are given is definitive. Regardless, this is a good biography of an interesting man.more
Simon Winchester is a reliable populariser/biographer - you know you are going to get a good read and interesting facts. But he is also a little predictable and formulaic, and this book fits both expectations. While there is a lively re-imagined life of Joseph Needham, I thought that Winchester failed to analyse Needham's work sufficiently. I came looking for an in-depth examination of the Needham question and I was left a little disappointed. But still a worthwhile read. Read January 2011.more
Simon Winchester has made quite a career of finding outlandishly eccentric characters who had extraordinary, if often overlooked, impacts on the world. Whether it’s an insane murderer who almost single-handedly wrote the Oxford English Dictionary or a Communist philanderer who exposed the western world to the influence of Chinese science, Winchester has long able to take the odd outsiders and turn them into sympathetic and important characters. Joseph Needham, the protagonist of “The Man Who Loved China” was just such a character.Needham began his career as a biochemist at Cambridge University, though only one field could ever completely entice his polymathic abilities: China. While still teaching at the university, Needham fell in love with a Chinese graduate student, Lu Gwei-djen. The relationship, once given the go-ahead by Needham’s liberal-leaning (in politics and in love) wife, gave the professor an inside look at the culture and country that would eventually consume his entire existence. Needham devoured everything Chinese, learning to speak and read Mandarin within months and plotting the book for which he would become famous, asking himself “how did science develop in China”.Needham was given the chance to explore the question when he took up a diplomatic post during World War II in the itinerant Chinese capital, Chongqing. Needham’s ostensible mission was to visit the Chinese universities and assess their needs for equipment and supplies. But he also used the time to explore as much of free China as he could, speaking with scientists and gathering books and evidence that he would later be able to use to show the rest of the world what he already knew: China had developed scientifically completely separate from the western world and, in many cases faster than the western world. In fact, Needham believed, many of the West’s greatest advancements had come from the Chinese. Joseph Needham would spend the rest of considerably long life (he lived to 94 years of age) writing and editing “Science and Civilisation in China” an immense (in size and importance) work that today numbers 27 volumes and parts. His life was not without controversy, as his Communist sympathies and support of the Red Chinese government would seriously damage his reputation at various points during his career, but Needham’s exploration of Chinese science and technology has left a lasting legacy on the academic world.more
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