Weidenfeld & Nicolson
May 12, 2005
In this hugely ambitious and stimulating book, Peter Watson describes the history of ideas from deep antiquity to the present day, leading to a new way of understanding our world and ourselves.
The narrative begins nearly two million years ago with the invention of hand-axes and explores how some of our most cherished notions might have originated before humans had language. Then, in a broad sweep, the book moves forward to consider, not politics, not the battles and treaties of kings, generals and prime ministers, but how the most important ideas by which we live have evolved, which separate us from other animals. Watson explores the first languages, and the first words, the birth of the gods, the origins of art, the profound intellectual consequences of money. He describes the invention of writing, early ideas about law, why sacrifice and the soul have proved so enduring in religion. He explains how ideas about time evolved, how numbers were conceived, how science, medicine, sociology, economics and capitalism came into being. He shows how the discovery of the New World changed forever the way we think, and why Chinese creativity faded after the Middle Ages.
In the course of this commanding narrative, Watson reveals the linkages down the ages in the ideas of many apparently disparate philosophers, astronomers, religious leaders, biologists, inventors, poets, jurists and scores of others. Aristotle jostles with Aquinas, Ptolemy with Photius, Kalidasa with Zhi Xi, Beethoven with Strindberg, Jefferson with Freud. Ideas is a seminal work.
Peter Watson was educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome. He is the author of thirteen books, which have been translated into seventeen languages, and has presented several television programs about the arts. Since 1998 he has been a Research Associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of A Terrible Beauty: The Ideas and People Who Shaped the Modern Mind.