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
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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.
*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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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'.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
A brilliant and lucid skeptics' tour of human thought and history. Just what the doctor ordered for naïveté and credulity.Published on Feb. 16 2014 by Shawn Thompson aka the intimate ape
Know this: the book is not about doubt. It is about hostility to religious belief of any kind, but especially Christian belief. Read morePublished on June 1 2004 by Gregory Fink
I bought Jennifer Hecht's book, Doubt, believing the book jacket's claim to be "a fascinating account of how Doubt has been a driving force in the intellectual and religious... Read morePublished on May 17 2004 by Tim Rauk
I can't speak for typos, and know who Lyndon Johnson was - that was an error that should have been caught. Read morePublished on April 1 2004 by Mark P. Tokarski
Doubt resurfacing in modern times hath wrought more in the way of liberating the human mind that millennia of faith--that much is clear, and this sea-breeze account of its history... Read morePublished on Feb. 22 2004 by John C. Landon
Amazing... in one book, the wealth of history to confirm the doubter's faith. I started to dog-ear the important pages, but it became difficult to close the book (which was hard... Read morePublished on Dec 21 2003
This book is a must-read! My sister gave it to me and now I'm giving it to several people for Christmas. I couldn't put it down! Read morePublished on Dec 1 2003
A very interesting book, with great content, especially for those not more familiar with the history of doubt, above all in doubt in the East. Read morePublished on Nov. 19 2003 by S. J. Snyder
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