Review

The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

by Simon Winchester

Joseph Needham was a bright, elegant, sophisticated scientist
with an impeccable pedigree. His work in Cambridge was in
biochemistry, a profoundly intense field, and he was a huge and
influential success. He was a freethinking intellectual, however,
who had predilections for both the decidedly base love of nudism
and unique brands of folk dance. With this wide range of interests,
he attracted a great deal of attention from colleagues and friends
--- and, although married at the time, lovers as well. In 1937 he
met Lu Gwei-djen, a Chinese scientist, and they embarked on a
long-term, long-distance relationship that first brought him into
contact with his beloved China.

Simon Winchester, esteemed author of THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMEN,
brings Needam's story and the love that created his most lasting
accomplishments to light with profound research and remarkable
emotional acuity in THE MAN WHO LOVED CHINA.

Winchester is not exactly a flowery writer, but he somehow manages
to tell historical tales about deep-thinking men and women through
their emotional entanglements. It is this delving into the souls of
these high-flying intellectuals that THE MAN WHO LOVED CHINA finds
its center. Needham is a fascinating character, and Winchester
wastes no words in relaying his most fervent desires to understand
the "middle kingdom" at a time when China and its eons-old culture
was an exotic and strange mystery yet to be solved. From the first
chapters, where the foundation is laid for the love that Needham
and Gwei-djen shared, to the thrilling episodes of Needham's
rough-and-ready travels as a stranger in a strange land, Winchester
manages to extrapolate the warmth and heartfelt desire Needham had
to mine both in the hearts and minds of the fantastic culture that
he brought to light.

In the early part of the 20th century, the many inventions and
creative traditions of the Chinese culture and its history were not
yet given credit by the masters of industry from First World
nations. It was into this morass of misinformation that Needham
strode, holding fast to his convictions that Chinese technology and
inventions --- which included the compass, suspension bridges and
even toilet paper --- were making a quiet but significant mark on
the world-at-large. His great tome, SCIENCE AND CIVILISATION IN
CHINA, tried to put a face to the timeline of Chinese innovation,
and by the time he died, he had created 17 volumes of remarkable
information that not only proved his convictions but ensured his
spot in the world history books.

Needham's passion is matched by Winchester's sharp and easy-to-read
richness of language and scene. They are a perfect pair, and THE
MAN WHO LOVED CHINA is a thrilling story of yet another eccentric
who looked into the void and pulled forth a work built on lust,
desire, love, passion and sheer academic brilliance. This is a
fascinating story!

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 7, 2011

The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom
by Simon Winchester

  • Publication Date: May 6, 2008
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0060884592
  • ISBN-13: 9780060884598