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Publisher's Summary

The first history of the western polymath, from the 15th century to the present day

From Leonardo Da Vinci to John Dee and Comenius, from George Eliot to Oliver Sacks and Susan Sontag, polymaths have moved the frontiers of knowledge in countless ways. But history can be unkind to scholars with such encyclopaedic interests. All too often these individuals are remembered for just one part of their valuable achievements. 

In this engaging, erudite account, renowned cultural historian Peter Burke argues for a more rounded view. Identifying 500 western polymaths, Burke explores their wide-ranging successes and shows how their rise matched a rapid growth of knowledge in the age of the invention of printing, the discovery of the New World, and the Scientific Revolution. It is only more recently that the further acceleration of knowledge has led to increased specialization and to an environment that is less supportive of wide-ranging scholars and scientists.

Spanning the Renaissance to the present day, Burke changes our understanding of this remarkable intellectual species.

©2020 Peter Burke (P)2020 Tantor

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A thorough guide

This strikes me as an academic, rather than popular history book. It trades novelty for nuance and I think that's what accounts for the previous reviewers harsh criticism - but it suited me well. The narrator did an excellent job. I was particularly impressed by his pronunciation of various names and non-english words. I think this book would serve well as a reference book and so, perhaps, a printed copy would be better, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.

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Not going to finish this one.

The subject sounded interesting, so I took a punt. Unfortunately. This review is based on the first third of the book. I am not going to invest more time in it. It seems that the author has made a card index of every person in history who has studied more than one field. And in this book, or the part to which I listened, the narrator reads out the information on each card. Sorry, but it is about as interesting as reading a dictionary. It will appeal to some people, but not to me.

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