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am 21. September 2014
I cannot quite understand the negative comments made by the two previous reviewers. Maybe this is the case of wrong expectations? This is a book written by a historian and philosopher of science. It is not a technical book on how the wheel was invented. The author cares about what people think and this is a fascinating adventure of the human mind. Many of the questions discussed today in the philosophy of science (and religion) were already discussed thousand years ago. Indeed the middle ages were much smarter, lively, and complex than we are usually told. After all, our modern academic tradition is firmly rooted in what happened centuries ago - despite the prejudice that it all only started in the age of enlightenment. If one wants so nurture this prejudice this is not the book for you. Here the development of thinking is nicely put into its historical context - something that is way too often forgotten when the picture of the terrible and dark middle ages is painted today. The book does not present one coherent story, but highlights individual thinkers and their lives throughout the centuries. Hence, once can peek into many corners of history but also gets loaded with lots of information. The writing is lively and understandable, but some academic background and interest will certainly help when reading this book.
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am 4. Januar 2014
I had thought that the book would discuss specific technical & scientific topics that were made during the middle ages.
Instead the book is purely theoretical, discusses the priests & popes, their attitudes, but no specific scientific data.
If James Hannam intended to show that science was indeed brought forward it's a feeble attempt. Not very convincing.
/Tom G-B
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am 27. Dezember 2009
A thousand years in which nothing happened? Of course not, but frequently the Middle Ages are treated as a kind of black box: as if nothing of significance happened inside the box. In that sense, the book fulfils a need, giving the uninitiated an overview of the kind of 'science' done in the period. And there is plenty to write about. There was life in the black box.

That's the good part, but the bad is this: instead of leaving the facts to speak for themselves, Hannam is unsubtly pushing a pro-Middle Age, and worse, pro-Catholic-Church-in-the-Middle-Ages agenda. It is of course incorrect to blindly defame and devalue this whole period of our history; but it is equally erroneous to glorify those thousand years and to claim that it was in the Middle ages that the foundations of modern science were laid, under the friendly auspices of Church institutions. His over-protestations actually undermine his own hypothesis, viz. that the Church might have offered some positive framework for empirical studies in the Middle Ages. The facts of the matter clearly speak a different message. 'Thinking' was an affair controlled from above, dominated by the organs of the Vatican, later with the vicious and deadly support of the 'Holy Inquisition'. Many people died for their views, a historical fact which is recorded by Hannam but disingenuously explained away. Galileo does not come off well: it was of course an exaggeration, Hannam seems to suggest, for the Inquisition to threaten him with burning and then sentence him to life imprisonment, but Galileo was himself not without fault, and in a sense he provoked his own fate. A classical case of the victim being made co-responsible. This spurious interpretation is even more surprising in the context of an age in which the Church has finally come around to recanting its behaviour towards Galileo. To give a further example of the kind of thing argued: the Jesuits are portrayed as primarily a successful scientific organization: Hannam proudly reports the number of scientific papers they produced but hardly mentions their central role in the process of thought repression.

This is in a sense a dangerous book because it presents itself in the guise of a scholarly work, but is in actual fact an apologia and justification for the repressions and reprisals of a very oppressive period in the history of human thought. I don't doubt the breadth of knowledge of the author but there is too much interpretation for the book to be considered scholarly. If you can put up with that, then maybe this is the book for you, after all, it does give a good overview. If not, search the market for something more suitable. God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science
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