I'm looking for book recomendations about the quest for knowledge for knowledge's sake.
April 18, 2004 1:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for book recomendations about the quest for understanding. An exploration and acquisition of knowledge for knowledge's sake. A sort of unbounded curiosity about the world that shows up in the sketchbooks of Da Vinci for instance.

Maybe something along the lines of The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin.
posted by jeffhoward to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Since you cite Boorstein, I assume you've read his other books, The Seekers and The Discoverers. Can't recommend either enough.
posted by loquax at 1:31 PM on April 18, 2004

Simon Schama is worth looking into. Landscape and Memory is a fav of mine.
posted by amberglow at 1:41 PM on April 18, 2004

Shoot, I meant The Creators not The Discoverers. Sorry.
posted by loquax at 1:45 PM on April 18, 2004

You know of James Burke, yes? He's an author as well as a TV host: Connections, The Pinball Effect and The Day the Universe Changed are all good. I don't know his later stuff as well.
posted by bonehead at 3:12 PM on April 18, 2004

I know you were asking about books, but what you are loking for sounds exactly like Melvyn Bragg's BBC Radio show In Our Time. "The big ideas which form the intellectual agenda of our age are illuminated by some of the best minds in the world. Melvyn Bragg and three guests investigate the history of ideas and debate their application in modern life". The guests are invariably knowledgable on the subject under discussion, and to hear Melvin chasing the thread of an idea through their knowledge is fascinating.

You can listen to all the shows via the archives; a superb collection.
posted by Gamecat at 4:56 PM on April 18, 2004

I really like reading Richard Feynaman's books when I'm looking to be inspired to wonder about the world. If you're not familiar with him, he's was a very colorful nobel prize winning physicist. Try Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! or The Pleasure of Finding Things Out and the Meaning of It All.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 5:04 PM on April 18, 2004

I just finished a A Short History of Nearly Everything and it was really good. Pretty simple explanations of complex stuff with lots of neat information about the people who discovered stuff over the years. Also Neal Stephenson's first book in the Baroque Cycle series, Quicksilver, deals heavily with the quest for knowledge.
posted by vito90 at 5:31 PM on April 18, 2004

I second vito's vote on A Short History. Very readable but still full of ideas.
posted by argybarg at 5:33 PM on April 18, 2004

I may be a little off, but you might be interested in Into the Wild by Jim Krakauer. I really enjoy that book even if the main character is completely bizarre.
posted by Slimemonster at 5:45 PM on April 18, 2004

The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow is a biography of a group of friends in 18th century England (among them James Watt and Joseph Priestley) whose unbounded curiosity led them to invent/discover a whole bunch of stuff.
posted by misteraitch at 11:49 PM on April 18, 2004

Not sure if this exactly fits, but Unity of Knowledge: The Convergence of Natural and Human Science is on my shortlist and sounds pretty interesting.
posted by Gyan at 12:10 AM on April 19, 2004

On the non-fiction front, Charles Van Doren's A History of Knowledge : Past, Present, and Future filled in a lot of gaps left from institutional education for me - it has it's flaws, but is a fascinating, ambitious and easy read nevertheless.

Also, another non-fiction book themed on the quest for knowledge and curiosity for it's own sake is the weighty tome The Art of Looking Sideways, by master designer Alan Fletcher. It's like someone giving you their brain to play with in book form, only better.
posted by elphTeq at 12:50 AM on April 19, 2004

You might try and get hold of a copy of Horace Freeland Judson's The Search for Solutions. (It was published in 1980 and now seems to be out of print, but there are secondhand copies available on Amazon.) I haven't read it for years, but I enjoyed it very much when I was a teenager, and wouldn't mind reading it again. One good thing about it is that it bridges the "two cultures" divide; although it's mostly about science, it also includes some examples of problem-solving in the humanities (art, archaeology, etc).
posted by verstegan at 1:33 AM on April 19, 2004

walden? maybe a different kind of knowledge...
posted by andrew cooke at 6:39 AM on April 19, 2004

It's pretty specific to a particular point in history, but I found Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization to be a great read, with a lot of pointers to some big ideas about human knowledge, even if they were sometimes rather superficially treated.
posted by soyjoy at 9:50 AM on April 19, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks all for the great leads.
posted by jeffhoward at 2:07 PM on April 19, 2004

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