The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom
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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.
Astronomical clock drive AD 120 Axial rudder 1st century AD Ball bearings 2nd century BC Balloon principle 2nd century BC Bean curd AD 100 Bell, pottery 3rd millennium BC Bellows, double-acting piston-tuned bronze 6th century BC Belt drive 5th century BC Beriberi, recognition of AD 1330 Blast furnace 3rd century BC Blood, distinction between arterial and venous 2nd century BC Blood, theory of circulation 2nd century BC Boats and ships, paddle-wheel
halting attempts at calligraphy—seemed at last to have paid off, to be on the verge of bringing results. Someone was listening. The Chinese might get the help they wanted. And he might now actually be sent off to work in the country that so captivated him. But there was nothing definite, and much work still to do. There were many meetings and exchanges of letters that winter—sessions in Cambridge, sessions in London, the formation of committees, exchanges of telegrams (“At this time of great
reach the frontier. In his diary he considers that although Kunming showed how the learned Chinese have a fathomless capacity for inquiry, there remained one mystery: why, if the Chinese were so clever and so endlessly inquisitive, inventive, and creative, had they for so long been so poor and scientifically backward? Why had the kind of inquiry into the natural world, which Needham’s research suggested they had been pursuing for a thousand years and more, evidently become moribund for so very
firms were then trying to sell. Joseph Needham’s love life was evidently back to normal. But the arrangement did not go down at all well with his colleagues. Gwei-djen’s appointment caused a fluttering in the diplomatic dovecotes because it seemed so blatantly nepotistic. There was no pressing academic need for Gwei-djen to come to China, and she remained there only long enough to take one trip across the south. No complaint was as vitriolic in tone as one formal memorandum that found its way
fascination. And as he did, the formerly shy, reserved young man began to blossom. Armed with a qualification and now occupied with a settled calling in the Biochemical Institute, Needham started to make the most of his stature and his studious good looks. As soon as he returned from a stint researching in Freiburg—during which he added a fair fluency in German to the seven other languages (including Polish) that he now spoke with comfort—he seemed to burst with a new enthusiasm and confidence.