The Man Who Loved China: Joseph Needham and the Making of a Masterpiece

Simon Winchester, Author . Harper $27.95 (316p) ISBN 978-0-06-088459-8

Joseph Needham (1900–1995) is the man who “made China China ,” forming the West’s understanding of a sophisticated culture with his masterpiece, Science and Civilization in China , says bestselling author Winchester. In a life devoted to recording the Middle Kingdom’s intellectual wealth, Needham, an eccentric, brilliant Cambridge don, made a remarkable journey from son of a London doctor through scientist-adventurer to red scare target. In Winchester’s (The Professor and the Madman ) estimable hands, Needham’s story comes to life straightaway. From the biochemist’s arrival in WWII Chongqing (“the smells, of incense smoke, car exhaust, hot cooking oil, a particularly acrid kind of pepper, human waste, oleander, and jasmine”) to his steely discipline when crafting his research into prose (to an old friend: “I am frightfully busy. You come without an appointment, so I am afraid I cannot see you”), Winchester plunges the reader into the action with hardly a break. As the author notes in an outstanding epilogue—a swirling 12-page trip through the kaleidoscope of contemporary China—he is at pains to place Needham front and center in our understanding of the nation that now plays such a huge role in American life. B&w photos, maps. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/10/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
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