Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson

Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson

by Jennifer Hecht

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In the tradition of grand sweeping histories such as From Dawn To Decadence, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and A History of God, Hecht champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind especially-from Socrates to Galileo and Darwin to Wittgenstein and Hawking. This is an account of the world's greatest ‘intellectual virtuosos,' who are also humanity's greatest doubters and disbelievers, from the ancient Greek philosophers, Jesus, and the Eastern religions, to modern secular equivalents Marx, Freud and Darwin—and their attempts to reconcile the seeming meaninglessness of the universe with the human need for meaning,

This remarkable book ranges from the early Greeks, Hebrew figures such as Job and Ecclesiastes, Eastern critical wisdom, Roman stoicism, Jesus as a man of doubt, Gnosticism and Christian mystics, medieval Islamic, Jewish and Christian skeptics, secularism, the rise of science, modern and contemporary critical thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, the existentialists.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062031396
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/28/2010
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 504,726
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Jennifer Michael Hecht is a philosopher, historian, and award-winning poet. She is the author of Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul; the latter won the Phi Beta Kappa Society's 2004 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. Hecht's books of poetry include The Next Ancient World and Funny. She earned her Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and teaches at The New School in New York City.

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Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am thoroughly enjoying this 'alternative' history. There are some great insights in this book. As a religious studies major I was happy to see this and have enjoyed it. Check out her interview in the OnBeing podcast as well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bravo! By even the most stringent of standards, Jennifer Hecht's book is breathtaking--in scholarship, structure, prose, and historical analysis. For the first time in my life, I am able to connect the multiplicity of dots on the map of humankind's belief systems. No doubt about it--'Doubt' is a marvel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are so many arguments and assumptions put forward with weak and often without an argument or evidence. This work has more in common with a journal or diary.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hecht's premise is that throughout history humans have tried to endow the universe with the human ideals of justice, compassion and love and that, for more than 2000 years, there have been those who doubt not only that the universe is human-like but even that we exist at all. The book compares well to surveys of humanity by Jared Diamond, but there are more women mentioned. It seems many of the women quoted express their doubt in terms of what do we need to know and do to make our way through life while some of the men are the airier "do we even exist?" thinkers. There's a fine section on Jewish humor as the essence of doubt and also a critique of Islam that makes perfect sense. She says all religions need to be brought into the modern world, and that we can't ignore misogyny and religion infused politics just because the religion involved is Islam. Highly recommended for anyone wanting a balanced view of philosophy.
jddunn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I probably should have read the reviews better on this. I was hoping it would be a broader look at the role of doubt, skepticism, and critical thinking in all aspects of history. Really, it's just an intellectual and cultural history of atheism and agnosticism that the publisher was afraid to market as such.On those terms, it's decent. I learned about a lot of more minor figures in the history of freethought that I hadn't come across before, and got quite a bit more context for the major ones I already knew about. The main thing I had problems with was the prose. By the time I got halfway through the book I felt like I was reading the same paragraph over and over again with new names and places plugged in. It got to be a real slog to read, even though the subject matter was stuff I'm definitely interested in. On the bright side, it didn't suffer as much from the condescension, myopia, and just plain assholery that most overtly atheist books tend to indulge in these days. It was balanced, well-researched, and charitable, if a little tendentious at times. Worth reading all-in-all, but it won't be the most enjoyable read you ever have. A good book for filling in the gaps if you're interested in the history of freethought, atheism, and heresies of all sorts.
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just like the title says -- this is a history of skepticism about received religion, from the Greeks to the current day. The book begins with an extensive discussion of Greek and Roman philosophy, almost of all of which was skeptical to one degree or another. It proceeds through the coming of Christianity, the middle ages, the Renaissance, the age of enlightenment, the 19th century, and on the present day. The author ascribes much of the scientific progress of earlier ages to those who were to one degree or another doubters, which seems a fair judgement. All in all, a most interesting book, which presents an unusual and enlightening perspective on the intellectual history of our culture.
wirkman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am surprised no on LibraryThing owns the book, much less reviewed it. This is a fine history doubt about the supernatural. It is competently written, and explores a wealth of material, including a few figures from the "believers" camp who offered unexpected contributions to the growing literature of doubt.
Qshio on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good read, but more importantly, a really solid education; Not simply in terms of the history of doubters, but the history of, well, thought. Of philosophy. For someone who didn't quite get the education he might have liked, this book is a great tour through different ways of thinking about the world, freed from the gauze and blur of supernaturalism.
bragan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jennifer Michael Hecht presents a comprehensive look at the world history of religious doubt, particularly doubt about the nature and existence of gods. Which, in a way, also makes it a history of religion and philosophy, from an enlightening alternate point of view. I found it thoroughly compelling, full of fascinating information, intelligent insights, and useful perspectives. As an ardent unbeliever myself, I also felt genuine delight at discovering so many thinkers, from so many different times, places, and traditions, whose words and ideas resonate so well with my own thoughts. It's worth pointing out, though, that although the book is extremely positive about doubt, it is definitely not an anti-religious screed. It deals with doubt that exists within religious traditions as well as doubt that attacks them, and even includes atheistic religions, such as Theravada Buddhism, under its doubters' umbrella. And even as I've come away from my reading feeling a bit of Atheist Pride, I also feel I've gained a better understanding of, and even a greater sympathy for, many aspects of religion.I'm giving this one the coveted five stars. I won't say that it's flawless, and it did take me a while to get through it, but, man, what a remarkable read!
Devil_llama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Finally, a very good historical exploration of the roots of doubt. The author pieces together a history of the world's most prominent freethinkers since the beginning of recorded history, and does a wonderful job with a difficult task. In addition, she is a good writer, and the prose flows smoothly.
gregtmills on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hecht does freethinker apologists a great service here. She creates an eloquent and exhaustive account of the process of doubt through history. For the most part, the people she depicts here are skeptics, rather than cynics. Their humanistic values come from their own evaluations and struggles with objective truth, rather than a wholesale rejection based on suspicion of motives of others (although that does pop up from time to time to be sure). For as many loud and proud rebels depicted in here, there are an equal army of strugglers who can't reject what they see as true, despite the prevailing beliefs of the communities around them. It's a very lively, thought provoking book, and anyone interested in the history of ideas would probably enjoy it. Heck, even theists should read it.
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A lively trip across humankind's history communicating the worth of questioning (doubt) to make a better world and that battles between believers and nonbelievers.