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In the tradition of grand sweeping histories such as From Dawn To Decadence, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and A History of God, Hecht champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind especially-from Socrates to Galileo and Darwin to Wittgenstein and Hawking. This is an account of the world's greatest ‘intellectual virtuosos,' who are also humanity's greatest doubters and disbelievers, from the ancient Greek philosophers, Jesus, and the Eastern religions, to modern secular equivalents Marx, Freud and Darwin—and their attempts to reconcile the seeming meaninglessness of the universe with the human need for meaning,

This remarkable book ranges from the early Greeks, Hebrew figures such as Job and Ecclesiastes, Eastern critical wisdom, Roman stoicism, Jesus as a man of doubt, Gnosticism and Christian mystics, medieval Islamic, Jewish and Christian skeptics, secularism, the rise of science, modern and contemporary critical thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, the existentialists.

Topics: Philosophers, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Jesus, Politics, Ethics, Atheism, Philosophical, Art & Artists, Spirituality , Political Commentary, and Essays

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780062031396
List price: $11.99
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Finally, a very good historical exploration of the roots of doubt. The author pieces together a history of the world's most prominent freethinkers since the beginning of recorded history, and does a wonderful job with a difficult task. In addition, she is a good writer, and the prose flows smoothly.more
Hecht's premise is that throughout history humans have tried to endow the universe with the human ideals of justice, compassion and love and that, for more than 2000 years, there have been those who doubt not only that the universe is human-like but even that we exist at all. The book compares well to surveys of humanity by Jared Diamond, but there are more women mentioned. It seems many of the women quoted express their doubt in terms of what do we need to know and do to make our way through life while some of the men are the airier "do we even exist?" thinkers. There's a fine section on Jewish humor as the essence of doubt and also a critique of Islam that makes perfect sense. She says all religions need to be brought into the modern world, and that we can't ignore misogyny and religion infused politics just because the religion involved is Islam. Highly recommended for anyone wanting a balanced view of philosophy.more
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Reviews

Finally, a very good historical exploration of the roots of doubt. The author pieces together a history of the world's most prominent freethinkers since the beginning of recorded history, and does a wonderful job with a difficult task. In addition, she is a good writer, and the prose flows smoothly.more
Hecht's premise is that throughout history humans have tried to endow the universe with the human ideals of justice, compassion and love and that, for more than 2000 years, there have been those who doubt not only that the universe is human-like but even that we exist at all. The book compares well to surveys of humanity by Jared Diamond, but there are more women mentioned. It seems many of the women quoted express their doubt in terms of what do we need to know and do to make our way through life while some of the men are the airier "do we even exist?" thinkers. There's a fine section on Jewish humor as the essence of doubt and also a critique of Islam that makes perfect sense. She says all religions need to be brought into the modern world, and that we can't ignore misogyny and religion infused politics just because the religion involved is Islam. Highly recommended for anyone wanting a balanced view of philosophy.more
I probably should have read the reviews better on this. I was hoping it would be a broader look at the role of doubt, skepticism, and critical thinking in all aspects of history. Really, it's just an intellectual and cultural history of atheism and agnosticism that the publisher was afraid to market as such.On those terms, it's decent. I learned about a lot of more minor figures in the history of freethought that I hadn't come across before, and got quite a bit more context for the major ones I already knew about. The main thing I had problems with was the prose. By the time I got halfway through the book I felt like I was reading the same paragraph over and over again with new names and places plugged in. It got to be a real slog to read, even though the subject matter was stuff I'm definitely interested in. On the bright side, it didn't suffer as much from the condescension, myopia, and just plain assholery that most overtly atheist books tend to indulge in these days. It was balanced, well-researched, and charitable, if a little tendentious at times. Worth reading all-in-all, but it won't be the most enjoyable read you ever have. A good book for filling in the gaps if you're interested in the history of freethought, atheism, and heresies of all sorts.more
Just like the title says -- this is a history of skepticism about received religion, from the Greeks to the current day. The book begins with an extensive discussion of Greek and Roman philosophy, almost of all of which was skeptical to one degree or another. It proceeds through the coming of Christianity, the middle ages, the Renaissance, the age of enlightenment, the 19th century, and on the present day. The author ascribes much of the scientific progress of earlier ages to those who were to one degree or another doubters, which seems a fair judgement. All in all, a most interesting book, which presents an unusual and enlightening perspective on the intellectual history of our culture.more
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