The Man Who Loved China (Magill's Literary Annual 2009)
Joseph Needham’s monumental Science and Civilisation in China, which continues to be published after his death in 1995, runs to twenty-four individual volumes, with more to come. Within a decade of the appearance of the initial volume in 1954, Needham’s name teemed in China bibliographies. His reputation as the scientist-historian who brought to light the immense accomplishments of traditional Chinese technology and science grew steadily. While his name is widely known, however, the strange, often captivating, and at times morally problematic man behind it is not. Simon Winchester has done a signal service in bringing to light Needham’s character and the saga behind his epic scholarship.
Needham was born in London at the dawn of the twentieth century, an only child of Scots lineage. His father was a physician, and his mother was a composer and a music teacher. His school years brought Needham’s immense intellectual prowess to the fore. By the time he was seventeen, he was aware that science was his principal interest, and, thinking to follow his father in the field of medicine, he applied to Cambridge University. He entered Caius College in 1918, and three years later he took his first degree, followed in 1924 by a master’s and a Ph.D.
As Winchester reveals, Needham was notorious for his eccentricities, which included nudism and the practice of Morris dance, a form of English folk dancing. By the 1930’s, he was driving...
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2009)
Booklist 104, no. 14 (March 15, 2008): 4.
Christianity Today 52, no. 7 (July, 2008): 54.
The Economist 387 (June 7, 2008): 95.
The Humanist 69, no. 1 (January/February, 2009): 42-43.
Kirkus Reviews 76, no. 6 (March 15, 2008): 297.
Library Journal 133, no. 8 (May 1, 2008): 76.
Maclean’s 121, no. 19 (May 19, 2008): 63.
New Scientist 199 (July 19, 2008): 47.
The New York Review of Books 55, no. 13 (August 14, 2008): 48-50.
Publishers Weekly 255, no. 10 (March 10, 2008): 68.
Scientific American 299, no. 2 (August, 2008): 106.
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