Pin It

Book Review 

by MICK LLOYD-OWEN & r & & r & The Man Who Loved China & r & by Simon Winchester & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n this juicy biography, Simon Winchester serves up a slice of history that reads like a novel -- complete with bizarre characters, plentiful adventure and unpredictable twists. It's a remarkable story of a remarkable man: Joseph Needham, the "bespectacled, owlish, fearless adventurer -- a man who, since he was also a nudist, a wild dancer, an accordion player and a chain-smoking churchgoer, was seen by some as decidedly odd."

Winchester ropes in the reader with a graphic prologue. An obviously important man -- Needham -- is flown into Chongqing, the sweltering, overcrowded, battle-fatigued capital of China in 1943. He has a commission from his government stating that the man who accepts it "must be ready for anything." It's also clear that the arrival of this tall, mysterious figure portends more than the official business of the Crown. Needham is realizing a personal dream.

It is the story of a brilliant, eccentric English scientist who falls in love with China -- first by means of a female Chinese colleague (a relationship that his wife tolerates, since theirs was an open marriage), then through the mysterious language of the "Middle Kingdom" (a language without an alphabet), and finally by traveling its length and breadth on a goodwill mission as a diplomat and scientist.

He was driven by what would later be called "the Needham question": Why, since China was the birthplace of so many technological and scientific advancements, did this vast country remain so backward for so long? His official mission was to shore up the intellectual institutions of a country at war with the Japanese, who had maliciously targeted Chinese universities for destruction. His personal mission -- understanding the heartbeat of this sprawling, ancient empire -- would eventually fill no less than 15,000 pages in what is regarded, even today, as the preeminent and definitive work in the Western world on China: Science and Civilization in China.

Winchester's biography of Needham -- socialist, skirt-chaser and tireless academic -- is both engaging and educational. It's a fast-paced and rewarding read.

Pin It

Latest in News

Readers also liked…


Comments are closed.

Today | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon
John James Audubon: The Birds of America (1856)

John James Audubon: The Birds of America (1856) @ Downtown Spokane Library

Tue., June 27, 6 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by n/a

  • Iron Upgrade
  • Iron Upgrade

    The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.
    • May 12, 2010
  • Get Out the Vote
  • Get Out the Vote

    With all the uncertainty in the world these days, hot wings and cold beer are two things we can get behind
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • Seeing Gay
  • Seeing Gay

    A festival showing GLBT from all angles
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment


do something

green zone



© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation