Joseph Needham03 Oct 1994 12:02
His contributions to biology and the history of science. How he came to be such a true-red Marxist. He suggests that scientific and proto-scientific movements have historically been allied with mysiticism, democracy and crafts guilds --- how strong is the evidence, or is this just the wish-fulfillment of a deeply religious and Marxist scientist?
When will his autobiography be translated into English?
- More than recommended:
- Science and Civilisation in China, 7 vols., incomplete at
the time of his death in 1995. I confess to have gotten no further than
Vol. IV, Part 1 in consecutive reading, before skipping ahead to what he was
able to publish on alchemy. George
Steiner called it the only worthy successor of Proust, as an effort to
re-create in memory a vanished world; I like it better than Proust, not least
because I have no desire to kick the narrator in the seat of the pants.
Of course it's too long (unless you're an undergraduate at Cal and cut classes for a few weeks to read it by Strawberry Creek): but the authorized abridgement by Colin Ronan, The Shorter Science and Civilisation in China, is fine; and for a brief taste of the Master himself, there is his Science in Traditional China.
- There is a nice appreciation by Philip Morrison...
- Merely recommended:
- Order and Life, one of the best expositions of modern ideas of biological order and levels of organization
- A History of Embryology
- Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West
- The Grand Titration, including Time and Eastern Man
- Moulds of Understanding
- Maurice Goldsmith, Joseph Needham: 20th-century Renaissance Man is the only real biography in English, written just before Needham died. It stays, for the most part, just on the right side of hagiography, but really Needham deserves something more critical.
- To read:
- Christopher Harbsmeier, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 7, The Social Background pt. 1, Languange and Logic in Traditional China [Blurb]
- Joseph Needham, Biochemistry and Morphogenesis QH491 N4 bio
- Max Pettersson, Complexity and Evolution [A sort of authorized continuation of Needham's views about integrative levels and the like]