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Publisher's Summary

Hecht champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind. From Socrates to Galileo and Darwin to Wittgenstein and Hawking, this is an account of the world's greatest intellectual virtuosos - who are also humanity's greatest doubters and disbelievers - and their attempts to reconcile the seeming meaninglessness of the universe with the human need for meaning.
©2003 Jennifer Michael Hecht; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
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Critic Reviews

"A bold and brilliant work and (lucky us) highly readable, thanks to the elegant and witty author." (Garrison Keillor)
"A magisterial book...Hecht's poetical prose beautifully dramatizes the struggle between belief and denial...The breadth of this work is stunning." (Publishers Weekly)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Gary on 01-25-15

The more you doubt, the more you want to know

When one has certainty, there is no more room for further knowledge or understanding. Science and Reason never prove, at the most they can just show things to be less false than other things. There is a long history of people who haven't been certain and their story makes for a much more interesting revealing of human history than the ones who pretend to have no doubt.

There are two recurring characters in this marvelous book about doubters throughout history, the Stoic, Cicero and his "On the Nature of the Gods", and the Epicurean, Lucretius, and his "On the Nature of Things". Both get major play in this book, firstly when they are introduced and secondly they keep popping up through the rest of the story because their influence with latter sages has been immense.

Survey of philosophy books with their chronological presentation can often be dull since they lack a narrative to tie the story together. This book gives that necessary narrative and gives the listener a thread to understand the connections while telling a good story that includes snippets of world history, religion and summaries of what great doubters thought throughout the ages.

The author gives enough of the major points and sometimes long quotations from the primary sources to make the book or person under consideration come alive and make the listener feel as if he understands the person who wrote it. For example, I now realize why I enjoy the book of Ecclesiastics so much more than any of the other books in the Bible (it's mostly a Epicurean type polemic on the meaning of life). Her considered amount of time she spends quoting Marcus Aurelius is well worth it for the listener. I've never found anyone who I tend to agree more with and would strongly recommend his "Meditations" which is available at audible, but it might not be necessary to read it if you listen to this book instead.

The other thing to like about this book: she does not ignore the East at all. She gives them equal weight to the West throughout the text. Eastern Religions are fully explored since there is a much richer tradition of not being certain, "the more you doubt, the more you understand" would be a typical Eastern religion answer to the refutation of the certainty found in revealed religions.

Overall, this book gives a great survey of doubt throughout the ages, with many synopsizes of great thinkers, and all within an overriding narrative tying all the pieces together. I would recommend this book for anyone who does not like to "pretend to know things that they do not know", and wants to understand the firm foundation that entails.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful


By Darwin8u on 11-23-14

Surveys doubt with amazing narrative skill

Hecht's historical survey of doubt is a lot of things and seems to do them all very well. It is a defense of doubt, a survey of doubt, a biography of doubters, a family tree of doubt's relatives. It looks at doubt both from within and external to belief. It examines the motives and believers and gives each its appropriate due.

I found the book to be highly readable. Strange to say, it was almost TOO readable. I felt myself slipping through the pages/listening to the narration* almost too fast. It has given me a whole new group of thinkers and philosophers to examine. I was very familiar with many of the doubters in Western and Classical traditions, but Hecht gave me a whole new group of Eastern, Jewish and Muslim doubters to get to know. Plus, even with those nonbelievers & skeptics I was familiar with (Lucretius, Montaigne, Spinoza, Cicero, Epicurus, Pliny, Gibbon, Paine, Jefferson, Bruno, etc.) she gave me whole new approaches and windows to see them through.

Finally, Hecht also found an appropriate way to thread the Book of Job writer, Jesus, Buddha, Qohelet (wrote Ecclesiastes), etc., into the framework of doubt. I think the book would have been crippled without it. Finally, she didn't avoid the negative, state-sponsored doubt period (Fascism, Communism) of the 20th century. Not all doubters do good things. Anyway, it was worth the money and the time for sure and will be re-read in the future.

* If you listen, I'd still get a hard copy. It is worth it just for the bibliography. You are going to want to be able to dig deeper on at least half a dozen of the men, women, skeptics and doubters she mentions.

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22 of 25 people found this review helpful

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