If you are an enthusiast of The Cheese and the Worms (1976), The Great Cat Massacre (1984), or The Return of Martin Guerre (1983),...

If you are an enthusiast of The Cheese and the Worms (1976), The Great Cat Massacre (1984), or The Return of Martin Guerre (1983), then Michael Wintroub‘s The Voyage of Thought: Navigating Knowledge Across the Sixteenth-Century World (Cambridge University Press, 2017) is a must read. Simply put, this is a book that will lead you down a path of wonder, and possibly, saddle you with a good head scratch. However, no one ever said that an itch near the cranium translates to feeling lousy; in this instance, what we have here is a richly researched and thought-provoking (no pun intended) piece of scholarship.

Wintroub, Professor of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley, is interested in how ideas that are commonplace today (like information-gathering, expertise, confidence, scale, and replication) originated over four centuries ago. This is the story of two brothers who were tasked with a monumental, trail-blazing journey from their home in Dieppe, France all the way to Sumatra. How did two humanist ship captains prepare? What did they find along the way in their search for pepper, glory, and God? Part science, part poetry, part architecture, part mind job, this book probes the notion that physical and mental spaces can be traversed if we ask the right questions.

Furthermore, through a connected history that cleverly interprets a letter from an eighty-year-old sailor, snatches the magnifying glass to reconstruct events on a beach in the Indian Ocean, focuses the microscope on a frieze in France, and backs the telescope off from the inner workings of the astrolabe, in this installment of New Books in Science you are in for a tour that will enliven the senses and tug on the heart.


J.N. Campbell is an independent scholar and writer in Houston, Texas. He is the co-author with Steven M. Rooney of How Aspirin Entered Our Medicine Cabinet (Springer, 2017). They have a second book entitled, Numb: A Chemical History of Opioid Epidemic, which is due out in 2018. He has written for the International Journal of the History of Sport, Reviews in History, and is a featured writer for Good Grit Magazine. After receiving an M.A. in History from the University of Kentucky, he fashions himself as a life-long student of history.

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