We have the pleasure of announcing the latest winner of our Love2Read Book Review Competition today: the winner for October, with the theme of ‘Explore’, is Doreen Patricia Allen with her review of The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester.
The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester
– review by Doreen Patricia Allen
Simon Winchester, a prolific author, was born in England, but having lived in Africa, India and China, he has a wide cultural experience and writes in an easy readable style that becomes a page-turner. He had been a journalist in East Asia.
The Man Who Loved China, the fantastic story of the eccentric Scientist who unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom of 336 pages, was published in hardback in 2008. There followed other editions in paper-back and e-book.
It is a well researched biography of the relatively unknown Joseph Needham, ( Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham) who was born in 1900, the only son of a Harley Street Specialist who was always stimulating the young boy’s enquiring mind. Needham was a brilliant Cambridge Don, who, although married, took a mistress with his wife’s knowledge. He was an eccentric, a nudist, open-minded intellectual, a scientist (biochemist), musician, with leftist leanings politically. He became a member of the prestigious Royal Society at the age of 41.
In the late 1930s he met Lu Gwei-djen, a Chinese research student at Cambridge, fell for her, and took her as his mistress. He learnt fluent Mandarin during their daily close encounters. She ultimately became his second wife after the death of his first wife. Japan invaded her homeland, China, in 1937 and Japanese power spread west as far as the ancient city of Chonqing. It became the provisional capital under Chiang Kai-shek and the anti-fascist headquarters till 1945.
When World War 2 broke out, the British Government sent Joseph Needham to China via India and flew him across the Himalayas to spy out the land. He spent a long time in western China and that part of the Silk Road, recording his findings and some amorous adventures, before returning to Britain and the other women in his life. His zest for living, and his insatiable curiosity, was legendary. He questioned why the Chinese fell behind when they had been so far ahead of the West technologically, for millennia. Needham was an astonishing scholar, and intrepid traveler, who gathered data as he traversed the vast land of China, He left an 18 volume love letter to China: Science and Civilization in China.
Winchester tells the story with quick character sketches and does justice to Needham’s impressive accomplishments. He had access to the diaries of Needham for this account.
We wish for more details, since Needham’s fame and work faded after his death in 1994.
At the end of this book Simon Winchester has recorded many pages of innovations and things Dr Needham found to have been invented by the Chinese, not just the abacus or gunpowder, but much, much more going back to 3 thousand years BC, including printing, the umbrella, and the compass.
It is a bizarre yet fascinating account, a compelling masterpiece, which I found edifying. It will expand the reader’s understanding of the roots of the Chinese civilisation.
Anyone can enter the monthly Book Review Competition, there is a nice National Year of Reading prize pack to be won. Read the rules here and put your entry in for next month. The winner has, with their permission, their entry published here on this blog and if they are happy to, we also interview them for our Listeners in the Mist podcast.
November’s theme : Cry
December’s theme: Love2Read