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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 Paperback – Sep 7 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (Sept. 7 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060097957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060097950
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.7 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #123,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Cited midway through this magisterial book by Hecht (The End of the Soul), the Zen maxim "Great Doubt: great awakening. Little Doubt: little awakening. No Doubt: no awakening" reveals that skepticism is the sine qua non of reflection, and discloses the centrality that doubt and disbelief have played in fueling intellectual discovery. Most scholarship focuses on the belief systems that have defined religious history while leaving doubters burnt along the wayside. Hecht's poetical prose beautifully dramatizes the struggle between belief and denial, in terms of historical currents and individual wrestlings with the angel. Doubt is revealed to be the subtle stirring that has precipitated many of the more widely remembered innovations in politics, religion and science, such as medieval Jewish philosopher Gersonides's doubt of Ptolemaic cosmology 200-300 years before Copernicus, Kepler or Galileo. The breadth of this work is stunning in its coverage of nearly all extant written history. Hecht's exegesis traces doubt's meandering path from the fragments of pre-Socratics and early religious heretics in Asia, carefully elucidating the evolution of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, through the intermingling of Eastern and Western religious and philosophical thought in the Middle Ages that is often left out of popular histories, to the preeminence of doubt in thrusting open the doors of modernity with the Cartesian "I am a thing... that doubts," ergo sum. Writing with acute sensitivity, Hecht draws the reader toward personal reflection on some of the most timeless questions ever posed.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Let others admire cathedrals: poet and historian Hecht celebrates the creations of doubters. In this remarkably wide ranging history, Hecht recounts how doubters from Socrates to Wittgenstein have translated their misgivings about regnant orthodoxies into new philosophic insights and political horizons. Though she explores the skepticism of early Greek thinkers challenging pagan gods, the tantric doubts of Tibetan monks chanting their way to enlightenment, and the poetic unbelief of heretical Muslim poets, Hecht gives center stage to Christianity, the religion that made doubt newly visible--and subversive--by identifying faith (not law, morality, or ritual) as the very key to salvation. Readers witness the martyrdom of iconoclastic doubters such as Bruno, Dolet, and Vanini, but Hecht also illuminates the wrenching episodes of doubt in the lives of passionate believers, including Paul and Augustine. In Jesus' anguished utterances in Gethsemane and at Calvary, Hecht hears even Christ experiencing the agony of doubt. Indeed, Hecht's affinity for the doubters who have advanced secular democracy and modern art does not blind her to the hidden kinship between profound doubters and seminal believers: both have confronted the perplexing gap between human aspirations and their tragic contradictions. In her provocative conclusion, Hecht ponders the novelty of a global confrontation pitting America not against the state-sanctioned doubt of Soviet atheism but, rather, against a religious fundamentalism hostile to all doubt. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific book, whether for traditional believers or doubters. It shows that, despite the extreme polarization around matters of faith and belief, we're actually not in some dualism. Instead we're on a continuum of belief/faith and the book validates those who secretly or silently harbor doubts. Heart and mind, reason and belief must ultimately be reconciled inside each one of us or we have a shallow, untested faith.
The world is a hostile place for doubters or those with unconventional beliefs/faith. In public religious discourse these days, people get publicly shamed or humiliated for not having capital 'F' Faith, meaning a publicly identifiable faith.
But we all have to face these life questions and best to do it having read a book explicating the doubting side of the equation. I agree with Hecht that doubt (doubting, questioning, and discerning) helps us arrive at our own truth and own understanding (not some version of received wisdom). This is foundational to a life well lived.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you have had 'doubt' about your religion, your faith or God in general and have felt that you are the only person who has experienced these thoughts, this is the book for you! For the past century we have had two camps that remain in total conflict; the religionists who fully believe in their version of holy scriptures and the materialists who feel that in order for reality to exist it must be scientifically measurable. You either belonged to one or the other, there was no room for doubt and agnosticism in between. One has to be chosen and their tenets committed to memory. This battle has been going on since the times of Socrates and Aristotle although the banners under which each side stood, over time, had a differing topic under which to stand. While the topics have changed, the conflict has remained the same.

There has been no room for true 'doubt' of either side. This book not only explores those who doubted but, in many cases, the tremendous cost they paid for doing so. The author begins with the gods of the Greek Pantheon and progresses all the way to present day Islamic and Christian fundamentalism. On the opposite side of these religious arguments lie the early philosophical arguments and latter day scientific findings that refute the existence of anything beyond our senses. The author, while maybe not meaning to do it, shows her emotional connection to studies as the text proceeds.

It is an enjoyable read that allows the reader to re-contact the doubts they have had on this journey called 'life'.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. It is pretty long, and I spent about 6 weeks slowly working my way through it, looking forward to reading a little every night. The author is a very good writer. This might have been dry material in other hands, but Jennifer Hecht has a gift for language. I went to her web site and discovered she is also a poet.
I had no idea that there were so many doubters in so many
cultures over the last several thousand years. She starts
about 500BC and discusses the ancient Indians, Greeks, Chinese,
Japanese, continues through to the Moslems and Europeans of the
middle ages and all the way to current day Europeans and
It is interesting that the works of many of the great doubters
have been destroyed by the religious groups that held political
power in their day. We only know about many of them by the
books that criticized them, which represented the views of the
prevailing religious establishment and were naturally allowed
to survive. We know of the doubters during the Inquisition by
the records of the Inquisition itself, as they were trying and
often torturing these people. The actual writing of the
doubters of that time have been lost or destroyed.
The book taught me a lot. It gave me more than just a history
of doubt. It gave me a brief history of the growth and
evolution of philosophy in many major world cultures.
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Format: Hardcover
As a child I was forced to go to church by my parents. They didn't go them selves, except of course on holidays. There was a lot of Latin, sit, stand and kneeling. I didn't understand. As an adult I searched for God, and still do, but I don't go easy. I ask difficult questions, and clergy who are at first evangelistic, tend to cool down quickly when dealing with me. I tried to "just believe", but I couldn't. I am not a scholar by any means and Doubt was a tough read for me. But what an eye opener it was! I mean Thomas Jefferson? Ben Franklin? Mark Twain? The list goes on and on. I guess I'm in pretty good company.
Jennifer Michael Hecht is brilliant here. The content moves quickly and covers a lot. (I will have to read this again.) I'm sure my own philosophy is the result of centuries of doubters. Who's philosophies then carried down through history to become the still troubling questions we have today. I don't believe it's ever been chronicled like this. I'm very impressed. I love her wit as well. This is a must read for all potential, future fanatics, especially those who come to believe that murder is a powerful convincer.
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