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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 Mar 17, 2009
ISBN: 9780061795886
List price: $9.99
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This book is published in the USA as the man who discovered China. Needham was a left-orientated biologist who developed a great passion for many things Chinese including several members of the opposite sex. He spent a number of years during WW2 travelling in China and interviewing scientists and librarians in pursuit of evidence that Chinese discoveries were rather more substantial than had hitherto been recognised. No doubt he was correct in most of his claims, although it is difficult at this distance to suppress a yawn and a muttered comment: "so what!".read more
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Once more Simon Winchester tells an enthralling story of a fascinating man.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
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This book is published in the USA as the man who discovered China. Needham was a left-orientated biologist who developed a great passion for many things Chinese including several members of the opposite sex. He spent a number of years during WW2 travelling in China and interviewing scientists and librarians in pursuit of evidence that Chinese discoveries were rather more substantial than had hitherto been recognised. No doubt he was correct in most of his claims, although it is difficult at this distance to suppress a yawn and a muttered comment: "so what!".
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Once more Simon Winchester tells an enthralling story of a fascinating man.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
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Why is it that the English have produced so many brilliant eccentrics who are fascinating to read about? Who knows, but they make great subjects for books.Simon Winchester, who I know through his books on geological subjects from the explosion of Krakatoa to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake has now chosen as his subject Joseph Neeham. Needham was a brilliant biochemist and fellow at Cambridge University. He was also a dedicated Socialist, a high church Anglican who believed in liberation theology before the term was invented, a fan of Morris dancing, a nudist and an ardent womanizer. It was this last personality trait that led him to what became the great love & consuming intellectual work of his life. In 1937 he fell in love with a brilliant Chinese student with whom he began a lifetime affair. He became fascinated with China, taught himself the Chinese language and then talked himself into a diplomatic mission to Chungking (Chongqing in today's parlance). There his ever inquisitive mind started pondering what became known as the "Needham question:" why did China, which invented so many technological firsts suddenly around 1500 stop their inventive activity and become stagnant and "backward" for the next 450 years?To answer this question, Needham first had to tell a doubting world the vast breadth of Chinese innovations from the inventing of printing hundreds of years before Gutenberg, to the compass, suspension bridges and even toilet paper (the impressive list is provided in an appendix to this book). In his quest for discovering the history of scientific invention in the country, Needham embarked on several treks during World War II that are described by some as adventures on the order of Indiana Jones and y others as the journeys of a fool-hardy idiot.Upon returning home to England after the war, Needham began writing Science and Civilization in China describing the county's astonishing history of technological invention. The one planned volume quickly became seven and then ten and finally eighteen upon his death in 1995/Along the way he befriended Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, and ran afoul of Joseph McCarthy at the height of his red baiting fame. Yet through it all, Needham remained true to both his left-wing beliefs and to his magnum opus.Simon Winchester tells this story with clear-eyed affection for his subject writing in a breezy style that is more fiction than academic study. For anyone who is fascinated with China, or with men who follow their own drummer, this is the book for you.
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I had always envisioned J. Needham as a dusty old historian who plodded through a laborious lifetime producing that shelf-bending set of books on ancient Chinese science and technology. Surprise! Needham's ultra progressive politics, and his lifelong menage a trois were inspiring, as was Winchesters description of travel expeditions in 1940's wartime western China while the evil Japanese ravaged the east. Needhams later life in the UK was old-boy-boring for me, but instructive in how Needham survived political ups and downs, ending mostly up. Engaging book, great choice of subject. I dont understand the new title. It seems to be unimaginative mimicry of all those cutesy three-things-hahahah titles that are so popular in the history genre. The original title is OK, if they'd add Needhams name more prominently, and shrink Winchester's to smaller type.
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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.
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