Monday, March 09, 2009

Books on the brilliantly disturbed: 5 best

Joshua Kendall is the author of The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus, now available in paperback.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of "books on the brilliantly disturbed."

One title on the list:
The Man Who Loved China
by Simon Winchester
Harper, 2008

Best known for his gripping narrative about the odd couple behind the Oxford English Dictionary ("The Professor and the Madman"), Simon Winchester here portrays the hypomanic, chain-smoking Brit who produced an immense encyclopedic work all by his lonesome. In 1936, Joseph Needham, a noted biochemist and ladies man, fell in love with a young scholar from Nanjing who taught him classical Chinese. "Almost delirious with happiness" from creating his own personal English-Chinese dictionary, this "20th century Erasmus" then sought to rescue China from its lowly status as "the booby nation." Needham's magnum opus -- he produced 17 volumes before his death in 1994 -- was called "Science and Civilisation in China," and it argued that the Middle Kingdom was once way ahead of the West. Printing, for example, came six centuries before Gutenberg. Winchester spotlights Needham's perilous research trips, which brought him into contact with Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai, as well as his colorful non-academic obsessions, including gymnosophy (i.e., nudism), Morris dancing and burnt toast.
Read about the Number One title on Kendall's list.

--Marshal Zeringue