Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reviews of God’s Philosophers in the Sunday Times and the Spectator

Both the Spectator and the Sunday Times have long and broadly positive reviews of God's Philosophers this week. As before, I'll gut the reviews for the main points.

In the Spectator, Dan Jones, author of Summer of Blood, a new book on the Peasants' Revolt, says,

Hannam does a good job of explaining how a few medieval scholars had come devilishly close to realising that the earth was in motion, and that the moon controlled the tides. Copernicus nailed much of it in the 16th century, but Hannam shows that some of his arguments were straight lifts from the work of much earlier scholars, such as John Buridan. Buridan suggested as early as 1350 that sunrise and sunset was caused by the earth, not the sun, moving. Standing on the shoulders of giants indeed…. this is a very useful general survey of a difficult topic, and a robust defence of an unfairly maligned age.

Conversely, he notes,

With so much ground covered, occasionally this book feels like a catalogue of scientific saints. There must be more than 150 characters, few of whom reappear after their first mention, and in places one wishes Hannam would pause longer for thought before rattling onto the next genius.

In the Sunday Times, James McConnachie, says,

In his spirited jaunt through centuries of scientific development, James Hannam tries to overthrow this cultural prejudice. He trumpets the Middle Ages as an era in which rational thought crystallised and scientific freedom flourished… We should not write off these men as "superstitious primitives", Hannam appeals. "They deserve our gratitude." He largely wins it for them…

… however,

… his plea is sometimes let down by a textbookish tone. More troubling is his overly partial stance. He is extraordinarily hostile to the Renaissance humanists, for instance, for throwing away 300 years of progress in pursuit of a dream of the classical past; "incorrigible reactionaries", he calls them. He also gives oddly little weight to the achievements of Arab scholars.

I would say that I gave Arab scholars as much weight as I honestly could. The plain fact is that in recent years, the Arab contribution to science has been somewhat overstated.


Bjørn Are said...

Don't be too concerned with these critics, they seem to be under some kind of oath to show the proper critical (which rather often reads cynical) attitude.

While their superficial misreadings speak volumes about themselves, their fundamental positivity speaks for you.

Anonymous said...

Actually, given McConnachie's track record, his review was very positive.

Humphrey said...

Good review from McConnachie; he can be very critical, even if he likes a book overall. I wonder what being in Dan Jones's Ignatius J. Reilly Society of proud medievalists entails.

Nicholas Beale seems impressed

James said...

On Dan Jones's reference see:

I hadn't realised McConnachie was so critical. Seems I had a lucky escape.

Sunday Times reader. said...

I hope James will do McConnachie the honour of reviewing his The Book of Love in return.