The Discoverers. PDF book : A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself

The Discoverers. PDF book: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel J. Boorstin

The Discoverers. PDF book


Excerpt from the author's introduction:

My hero is Man the Discoverer. The world we now view from the literate West — the vistas of time, the land and the seas, the heavenly bodies and our own bodies, the plants and animals, history and human societies past and present — had to be opened for us by countless Columbuses. In the deep recesses of the past, they remain anonymous. As we come closer to the present they emerge into the light of history, a cast of characters as varied as human nature. Discoveries become episodes of biography, unpredictable as the new worlds the discoverers opened to us.

The obstacles to discovery — the illusions of knowledge — are also part of our story. Only against the forgotten backdrop of the received common sense and myths of their time can we begin to sense the courage, the rashness, the heroic and imaginative thrusts of the great discoverers. They had to battle against the current “facts” and dogmas of the learned.


I have tried to recapture those illusions — about the earth, the continents and the seas before Columbus and Balboa, Magellan and Captain Cook, about the heavens before Copernicus and Galileo and Kepler, about the human body before Paracelsus and Vesalius and Harvey, about plants and animals before Ray and Linnaeus, Darwin and Pasteur, about the past before Petrarch and Winckelmann, Thomsen and Schliemann, about wealth before Adam Smith and Keynes, about the physical world and the atom before Newton and Dalton and Faraday, Clerk Maxwell and Einstein.

I have asked some unfamiliar questions. Why didn’t the Chinese “discover” Europe or America? Why didn’t the Arabs circumnavigate Africa and the world? Why did it take so long for people to learn that the earth goes around the sun? Why did people begin to believe that there are “species” of plants and animals? Why were the facts of prehistory and the discovery of the progress of civilization so slow in coming?


I have included the story of only a few crucial inventions — the clock, the compass, the telescope, and the microscope, the printing press and movable type — which have been essential instruments of discovery. I have not told the story of the shaping of governments, the waging of wars, the rise, and the fall of empires. I have not chronicled culture, the story of Man the Creator, of architecture, painting, sculpture, music, and literature, much as these

have multiplied the delights of human experience. My focus remains on mankind’s need to know — to know what is out there.


The plan of the book as a whole is chronological. In detail, it is a shingle scheme. Each of the fifteen Parts overlaps chronologically with its predecessor as the story advances from antiquity to the present. I begin with Time, the most elusive and mysterious of the primitive dimensions of experience. Then I turn to Western man’s widening vistas of the Earth and the Seas. On to Nature — the physical objects in the heavens and on earth, plants and animals, the human body and its processes. Finally to Society, finding that the human past was not what had been imagined, to the self-discovery of Man the Discoverer, and to the Dark Continents in the atom. This is a story without an end. All the world is still an America. The most promising words ever written on the maps of human knowledge are terra incognita — unknown territory.


Author:  Daniel J. Boorstin
Publication Date: 1983
Updated

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