Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Discoverers

A great deal of discoveries in human history have led to the incredible standard of living we enjoy today. In The Discoverers, Daniel Boorstin explores (the who, what, where, when etc) a great number of these.

I was excited to read the book but after the first few chapters the excitement was firmly put to rest. There is no unifying theme underlying the somewhat randomly chosen discoveries upon which Boorstin has chosen to focus. There is also no thesis as to how these discoveries emerged. As such, it's kind of like reading an encyclopedia, which is not something I'd want to do.

I like to have some sort of model on which to hang a bunch of facts. Otherwise, I'm forgetting the stuff as fast as I'm reading it. Of course, the downside is that the model may be wrong or may have exceptions, and so facts are often force-fit into the author's model. Still, problems with the model make one think, and I believe therefore make the facts more relevant and more likely to be memorable. Instead, I've probably already forgotten 99% of the book!

Some of the topics were fascinating. The "discovery" and management of time, for example, took place over a number of centuries in different parts of the world. The book is not as Euro-centric as I expected it to be, as it gave credit to a number of cultures that have contributed various discoveries.

Still, it was several hundred pages too long. If you want to torture yourself, or feel like reading hundreds of pages of Wikipedia, you're going to love The Discoverers.

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