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Publisher's Summary

Here is the fantastic story of the eccentric scientist who unlocked the mysteries of the Middle Kingdom.

In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester chronicles the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who turned his eccentric genius on the study of China.

In 1937 Joseph Needham fell in love with a visiting Chinese student. He soon became fascinated by China, and his mistress persuaded him to travel to her home country. Thus began his undying passion for the world's most populous nation.

Needham tackled one of the great, unanswered historical questions: Why did a nation that had invented so much and had enjoyed 5,000 years of flourishing civilization fail to undergo an industrial revolution, and instead spend so many modern years mired in poverty and racked by instability and revolution?

By the time he died, Needham had produced 17 immense volumes on China, marking him as the greatest one-man encyclopaedist ever.

Both epic and intimate, The Man Who Loved China tells the sweeping history of China through Needham's remarkable life. Here is an unforgettable tale by one of the world's inimitable storytellers.

©2008 Simon Winchester (P)2008 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

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  • Overall

Great for Winchester Fans

This is my third Simon Winchester book and I enjoyed it immensely. However, if you've never read (listened) to a Simon Winchester book, this is not the one to start with. You will appreciate this book far more after listening to "The Professor and The Madman" because it will help you "get" the Winchester perspective on great works of scholarly importance and the characters in Madman are far more endearing than here.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

This guy knows how to tell a story

This is not a topic I would normally have much interest in. I've never heard of Joseph Needham or the book he wrote. But Simon Winchester can make things interesting. It is the story of another eccentric Brit, not unlike the subjects of The Professor and the Madman or The Map that Changed the World. The format is straight biography, but there is an awful lot to learn about China in the story.

I guess the take home message is that China went into a slump for a few centuries while Europe managed to take over the world. Now China is regaining its place as a center of innovation and scholarship. How the future plays out is still open, but Needham made it clear that if the past is any guide, the West has a lot to worry about. A fun listen.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 05-22-08

turn your watch back 70 years

Turn your watch back 70 years and let Simon Winchester guide your mind through Joseph Needman's life and times. Beyond his work in China, Winchester brings you up close to all of the unique and interesting aspects of Needam. Beyond the wonderful way Winchester writes, the English accent is just great.

29 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sarah
  • Seattle, WA, United States
  • 03-05-11


I would give this 10 stars if I could. I have read three other books by Winchester and was honestly rather disappointed with them. But in this work, he has exceeded all his other efforts put together. I was transported into Joseph Needham's world of Cambridge in the first half of the twentieth century. This brilliant man reached the pinnacle of achievement in science, languages, and history. After a remarkable career in biochemistry, he switched to the history of science in China in his late thirties. He not only mastered the Chinese language, but became the world authority on the history of science in China. He recognized that the Chinese were often far ahead of the rest of the world in science. His objective was to write "a" book about the topic, but it soon grew to some 17 major volumes that took 5 decades of his life to complete.
I relished every word of this wonderful work and can't imagine anyone who wouldn't be equally enthralled by this tale. An absolute winner.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Geoffrey
  • Pleasantville, NY, United States
  • 09-03-10

Not Book, Bomb, Compass

The UK and International title of this book is BOOK, BOMB, AND COMPASS, describing Francis Bacon's choice of three inventions which most greatly affected the history of mankind. All three were invented in China. For the US version the title of this book was changed to THE MAN WHO LOVED CHINA, and this is a much more apt title. It is a biography of Joseph Needham, not a summary of his work on the history of science in China.

Problem is I wanted to hear the latter, not the former. Only the first 1/3 of the book was interesting to me - his discovery of interest in China and his travels there. The rest about college life and cold war politics I could have skipped. Nevertheless, as an American living in China, it is humbling to hear about the early scholars who helped bridged the gap between China and the West with none of the modern aids we have today.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Alfred
  • Royal Oak, mi, MI, USA
  • 03-27-09

The future is foreshadowed by the past.

This is a terrific book which all educated people should read to correct what they were taught. Teachers and historians need this information to pass on the truth. Government and business people need to know this information in order to deal in China. This is not to elevate China to some lofty level or to fear China. It is to understand China, deal with the Chinese people, understand them personally and how they will proceed in the future.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

A Worthwhile Book About China

If you could sum up The Man Who Loved China in three words, what would they be?

A book about a book (though lengthy and multivolume, the Science and Civilisation of China remains a unitary work) about China through the lens of Joseph Needham. Eminently approachable for the western reader. Relatable as well, through the fusion of eros and logos in Needham.

What other book might you compare The Man Who Loved China to and why?

The Age of Wonder, Holmes.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Overwhelming life story presented accessibly

Totally enlightening glimpse into the life of a fascinating man, tied in nicely with commentary on the actual subject matter if his academic pursuits.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Maybe too long!

Perhaps a bit too much info on this man, who indeed had an interesting relationship over a long period with China. Still, I listened to the whole audio, so it is not too bad as I can be impatient. Good vocal performance. You can always send it back to Audible if you really dislike it. I kept it as I got enough enjoyment that I could not in good conscience return it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

A real eye opening experience

The writing and performance were outstanding, but what made this book truly stand out for me was how much I learned that I had no clue about before I picked it up—or rather started listening.