The Jesuit and the Skull

  • by Amir D. Aczel
  • Narrated by Barrett Whitener
  • 8 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In December 1929, in a cave near Peking, a group of anthropologists and archaeologists that included a young French Jesuit priest named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin uncovered a prehuman skull. The find quickly became known around the world as Peking Man and was acclaimed as the missing link between erect hunting apes and our Cro-Magnon ancestors. It also became a provocative piece of evidence in the roiling debate over creationism versus evolution. For Teilhard, both a scientist and a man of God, the discovery also exposed a deeply personal conflict between the new science and his faith. He was commanded by his superiors to deny all scientific evidence that went against biblical teachings, and his writing and lectures were censored by the Vatican. But his curiosity and desire to find connections between scientific and spiritual truth kept him investigating man's origins. His inner struggle and, in turn, his public rebuke by the Catholic Church personified one of the central debates of our time: How to reconcile an individual's commitment to science and his commitment to his faith.
In The Jesuit and the Skull, best-selling author Amir D. Aczel vividly recounts the discovery of Peking Man, its repercussions, and how Teilhard de Chardin's scientific work helped to open the eyes of the world to new theories of humanity's origins that alarmed the traditionalists within the Church. A deft mix of narrative history and a poignant personal story, The Jesuit and the Skull brings fresh insight to a debate that still rages today.

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Audible Editor Reviews

Banished to China by the Catholic Church in the 1920s for his anti-doctrinal ideas about the evolution of humans, Father Teilhard de Chardin struck anthropological gold. His 1929 discovery of Peking man in Java gave science a missing link in the theory of evolution. Amir Aczel writes for all curious readers, regardless of their level of scientific expertise. Narrator Barrett Whitener makes the painless science even easier as he breezes through the French and Chinese names and technical terms. His voice seems reserved and unhurried, a plus when listeners want to absorb all the details without having to rewind. By making the discovery of evolution and its verifying evidence into a fun story, both author and narrator lighten education with entertainment.

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What the Critics Say

"Aczel...tells a very human tale with great insight and compassion." (Professor Ofer Bar-Yosef, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University)
"An absorbing read [and] deeply moving personal story." (Ian Tattersall, curator, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, and authorof Human Origins)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

More skull than Jesuit

For some time, I’ve wanted to read a spiritual biography of Teilhard – This is definitely not it. It is a good review of the "descent of man" etc, and it brings to life many of Teilhard’s colleagues, but is a very dry, skeletal account of the man himself. After reading it, I have much less interest in reading a spiritual bio of Teilhard (who apparently could be friends with a drug dealing,arms trading fascist and spend decades in China without ever learning local language). Did Teilhard ever come into contact with ideas of some of his French contemporaries like Simon Weil or Peter Maurin or Jacques Maritain? Did he have ANY social philosophy? You won’t find out in this book.

Although a good read, I think those who enjoy reading “science” might find this a bit scanty on documentation?

I think Teilhard’s time has arrived – both in world thought and more specifically in Catholic/Christian mysticism – but Teilhard’s influence on and/or parallels with today’s cosmology is not really explored in this work.

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- connie "Narrative makes the world go round."

entertaining and informative

Overall the book was quite good. It was very informative with regard to both Teilhard's life and the paleontology that was the greater art of his life's work. The only frustration for me was that it discussed almost nothing of the content of his attempts to unite science and religion in his theological writings, such as the Phenomenon of Man or the Future of Man or the Divine Milieu. If those ideas had been worked in along with the biography and paleontology it would have been excellent, as it is...its still quite good.
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- Richard

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-19-2007
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio