Review: Descartes' Bones by Russell Shorto

Descartes’ Bones, by Russell Shorto, takes the reader on an interesting and compelling journey through 400 years of history in search of the true final resting place of Rene’ Descartes, the man arguably responsible for the advent of modern scientific inquiry. Told within the framework of the many travels of the great philosopher’s bones throughout Europe, from his death in Sweden in 1650 until his skull’s current resting place at the Museum of Man in Paris, Shorto recounts how his life and work have been interpreted throughout the centuries, engendering ideas that have shaped the very fabric of Western Civilization.

The author is one of those rare history writers who have a gift for making their subjects come alive. With wit and a keen ear for suspense a la Dan Brown, he traces the story of Descartes’ post mortem journey in such a way that keeps his reader both engaged and entertained. Shorto presents the past the way it should be – full of interesting characters and intriguing stories Great events like the French Revolution are illuminated as more than simply the sum of dry dates and dusty facts, but seminal events that happened within the context of continent-wide changes in the way mankind viewed himself and his place in the world. Through Shorto’s superb storytelling skills and his extensive historical knowledge, the reader comes away from this book with a good understanding along with a better appreciation of Descartes’ impact on his world and his continuing influence today.

11 November 2008


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