Thursday, December 31, 2009

Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason by Russell Shorto

Originally posted Thursday, November 27, 2008
Reviewed from Shelf Awareness for publisher/author

Interesting history of philosophy, reason, and science
This has been an unusual trip through the beginning of modern philosophy back in the 1600s to the present. I have not personally studied philosophy, but I found the book easy enough to read. There are many endnotes which in this case I found to be less distracting than footnotes yet easy enough to look up, and many references. The work is well-researched and written for the average person such as myself. There was a great deal of history showing Descartes’ reasoning, studies, and presentation of the original idea of duality of mind and body. This early beginning formed the basis for all science today, giving him the ‘title’ of the Father or Modernity”..

Shorto’s book takes a new look at the beginnings of Descartes’ work and follows through the centuries after his death, showing his effect on science and reason to the present day. However, he has taken an interesting route of demonstration. Descartes never lay quietly in his grave, he was moved through the centuries into various locations, some religious, some not. These relocations of his bones tended to coincide with important turning points in history, harking back to his view of duality and modernism. To make matters more mysterious, the skull was not with the bones. Surprisingly, the skull was located almost 200 years after Descartes’ death and has been authenticated. However, the bones (fragments), presumed carefully handled with each removal and noted, are no longer believed to be authentic. I found the book interesting and different, there are fascinating looks at several historical figures and times. The characters are humanized and real, and I think it would appeal to readers who are inquisitive, like factual science, or history, without sounding like a text-book. 3 1/2 stars

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