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In the tradition of grand sweeping histories such as From Dawn To Decadence, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and A History of God, Hecht champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind especially-from Socrates to Galileo and Darwin to Wittgenstein and Hawking. This is an accoun In the tradition of grand sweeping histories such as From Dawn To Decadence, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and A History of God, Hecht champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind especially-from Socrates to Galileo and Darwin to Wittgenstein and Hawking. This is an account of the world's greatest ‘intellectual virtuosos,' who are also humanity's greatest doubters and disbelievers, from the ancient Greek philosophers, Jesus, and the Eastern religions, to modern secular equivalents Marx, Freud and Darwin—and their attempts to reconcile the seeming meaninglessness of the universe with the human need for meaning, This remarkable book ranges from the early Greeks, Hebrew figures such as Job and Ecclesiastes, Eastern critical wisdom, Roman stoicism, Jesus as a man of doubt, Gnosticism and Christian mystics, medieval Islamic, Jewish and Christian skeptics, secularism, the rise of science, modern and contemporary critical thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, the existentialists.


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In the tradition of grand sweeping histories such as From Dawn To Decadence, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and A History of God, Hecht champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind especially-from Socrates to Galileo and Darwin to Wittgenstein and Hawking. This is an accoun In the tradition of grand sweeping histories such as From Dawn To Decadence, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and A History of God, Hecht champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind especially-from Socrates to Galileo and Darwin to Wittgenstein and Hawking. This is an account of the world's greatest ‘intellectual virtuosos,' who are also humanity's greatest doubters and disbelievers, from the ancient Greek philosophers, Jesus, and the Eastern religions, to modern secular equivalents Marx, Freud and Darwin—and their attempts to reconcile the seeming meaninglessness of the universe with the human need for meaning, This remarkable book ranges from the early Greeks, Hebrew figures such as Job and Ecclesiastes, Eastern critical wisdom, Roman stoicism, Jesus as a man of doubt, Gnosticism and Christian mystics, medieval Islamic, Jewish and Christian skeptics, secularism, the rise of science, modern and contemporary critical thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, the existentialists.

30 review for Doubt: A History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “The history of doubt is not only a history of the denial of God; it is also a history of those who have grappled with the religious questions and found the possibility of other answers.” ― Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History Hecht's historical survey of doubt is a lot of things and seems to do them all very well. It is a defense of doubt, a survey of doubt, a biography of doubters, a family tree of doubt's relatives. It looks at doubt both from within and external to belief. It examines th “The history of doubt is not only a history of the denial of God; it is also a history of those who have grappled with the religious questions and found the possibility of other answers.” ― Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History Hecht's historical survey of doubt is a lot of things and seems to do them all very well. It is a defense of doubt, a survey of doubt, a biography of doubters, a family tree of doubt's relatives. It looks at doubt both from within and external to belief. It examines the motives and believers and gives each its appropriate doubting due. I found the book to be highly readable. Strange to say, it was almost TOO readable. I felt myself slipping through the pages almost too fast. It has given me a whole new group of thinkers and philosophers to examine. I was very familiar with many of the doubters in Western and Classical traditions, but Hecht gave me a whole new group of Eastern, Jewish and Muslim doubters to get to know. Plus, even with those nonbelievers & skeptics I was familiar with (Lucretius, Montaigne, Spinoza, Cicero, Epicurus, Pliny, Gibbon, Paine, Jefferson, Bruno, etc.) she gave me whole new approaches and windows to see them through. Finally, Hecht also found an appropriate way to thread the Book of Job writer, Jesus, Buddha, Qohelet (wrote Ecclesiastes), etc., into the framework of doubt. I think the book would have been crippled without it. Finally, she didn't avoid the negative, state-sponsored doubt period (Fascism, Communism) of the 20th century. Not all doubters do good things. Anyway, it was worth the money and the time for sure and will be re-read in the future.

  2. 5 out of 5

    R.A. Schneider

    What is it they say? "History is written by the winners." That is unless you're Howard Zinn ("People's History of the United States") or Jennifer Michael Hecht, writing "Doubt: A History." No, I'm not calling these two "losers," but they definitely adopted Quixotic missions in championing the unspoken viewpoint of "the other side" of history. And both turned out encyclopedic tomes on their respective topics. But as much as I enjoyed Zinn's take on American History (recommended, by the way, by Mat What is it they say? "History is written by the winners." That is unless you're Howard Zinn ("People's History of the United States") or Jennifer Michael Hecht, writing "Doubt: A History." No, I'm not calling these two "losers," but they definitely adopted Quixotic missions in championing the unspoken viewpoint of "the other side" of history. And both turned out encyclopedic tomes on their respective topics. But as much as I enjoyed Zinn's take on American History (recommended, by the way, by Matt Damon's off-hand line in "Good Will Hunting" -- How do you like THEM apples?), Hecht is superior in my view in delivering the more meaningful and important record of a branch of thought that is not only often ignored, but ostracized, pilloried, martyred and pogrommed. The tale of humanity's ability to question is what is at stake here. This is the tale of all those through history who have said, "Now, wait a second... Could it be that your interpretation is incorrect?" It is the tale of all those inchoate scientists (even before the term) who looked at the empirical world and said, "Man, this does NOT jive with what the priests are telling us." So, on topic alone, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. How about content, style, execution? Hecht is deft and witty, though over the course of 700+ pages she clearly has her favorite doubters, and they receive better writing and attention. The last chapter seemed a bit rushed, but then it is always hard to write history about the present... so little time for perspective to mature on what is happening. This is a good introduction to a pantheon of philosophers through the ages. If you don't add at least 5 names to your list of "People whose writing I must read," then you are either a professor of philosophy already, or not reading very closely. This book deserves a wider audience in (as Carl Sagan phrased it) this "demon haunted world." Hecht does her part to keep the flame of reason flickering, no doubt about it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    Here's a little confession: I'm a doubter. I always have been. And given my very conservative Mormon family and the even more conservative Mormon community I live in, doubt is frowned upon. More than that, it's considered a serious character flaw--something to be ashamed of, purged, and overcome as quickly as possible. Doubt: A History provides an overview of some of the world's most prominent doubters--Socrates, Thomas Jefferson, even Jesus--and describes the crucial roles they played in histor Here's a little confession: I'm a doubter. I always have been. And given my very conservative Mormon family and the even more conservative Mormon community I live in, doubt is frowned upon. More than that, it's considered a serious character flaw--something to be ashamed of, purged, and overcome as quickly as possible. Doubt: A History provides an overview of some of the world's most prominent doubters--Socrates, Thomas Jefferson, even Jesus--and describes the crucial roles they played in history. This book taught me that there is a rich tradition of doubt that goes back thousands of years, that doubters have made remarkable contributions to history, and that even thought I've been programmed to be ashamed of my doubt, I'm actually in some really excellent company. Jennifer Michael Hecht is a competent historian and an excellent writer, and her tour of doubt is an excellent read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    An absorbing history of healthy skepticism through the ages. Personally, I've always joked that Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" could be "I doubt, therefore I may not be." In reading this book, I realize "I think, therefore something thinks, but it's not necessarily me." Which can ironically lead one to a non-dogmatic spirituality. As an agnostic, I find the claimed certainties of both religion and science to be irksome. As Hecht has in her book (it may be a quote from someone else), the rea An absorbing history of healthy skepticism through the ages. Personally, I've always joked that Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" could be "I doubt, therefore I may not be." In reading this book, I realize "I think, therefore something thinks, but it's not necessarily me." Which can ironically lead one to a non-dogmatic spirituality. As an agnostic, I find the claimed certainties of both religion and science to be irksome. As Hecht has in her book (it may be a quote from someone else), the real enemy of the theist is not the atheist, but the agnostic. I'm willing to accept evidence based on experiment, but I'm always willing to allow the evidence may change in response to a different experiment. Those who are certain because they've heard the voice of God or because they have obtained a diploma I find insufferable. These are the kind of thoughts reading this book stirred up.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    This book traces the history of religious doubters, skeptics, and atheists from the classical world through the middle ages to the modern era. It seems that every age has had religion and every age has had its disbelievers. The disbelievers of history form a who's who of famous minds. Ancients like Lucretius and Democritus, to the middle ages with the great Arab scholars like poet and physician Omar Khayyam, to the modern era where the list explodes. Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Paine, Voltaire This book traces the history of religious doubters, skeptics, and atheists from the classical world through the middle ages to the modern era. It seems that every age has had religion and every age has had its disbelievers. The disbelievers of history form a who's who of famous minds. Ancients like Lucretius and Democritus, to the middle ages with the great Arab scholars like poet and physician Omar Khayyam, to the modern era where the list explodes. Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Paine, Voltaire, Russell, Sartre, Hume to name some of the heavy hitters. This book is one of my favorite histories of a venerable tradition that doubted what everyone else believed. 2/11/2019 I remember first reading this in the 1990s long before the new atheist wave after 9/11. I tended towards irreligiosity long before it was a meme and will probably stay that way long after new atheism degenerated into intellectual dark web reactionary politics and implodes. Hecht is a good writer and keeps the topic fun and historical. A little historical perspective would be nice to add to what little remains that is legitimate in New Atheism.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    Jennifer Hecht's grand work on the history of doubt is an impressive tome of 600 pages, taking you - chronologically and internationally - right up to 2002. The notion of history being written by the winners is one which certainly applies to large swaths of event-narrative; the history of intellectual thought is one where history is frequently written by the losers (though generations later) since during their day they were likely at least shunned and most often fatally persecuted given the perc Jennifer Hecht's grand work on the history of doubt is an impressive tome of 600 pages, taking you - chronologically and internationally - right up to 2002. The notion of history being written by the winners is one which certainly applies to large swaths of event-narrative; the history of intellectual thought is one where history is frequently written by the losers (though generations later) since during their day they were likely at least shunned and most often fatally persecuted given the perceived ramifications of their output. The thinkers discussed throughout this immense work are not linked by any modern conception of atheism or agnosticism, in fact many are believers of varying degrees, rather they are united by a system of thought that allowed them to see, more clearly than their contemporaries, the faults in the assertions made by the superstitious and credulous of their time. As this is a work of history, not philosophy, those looking for a thorough analysis of the larger philosophical works of these authors should look to recent philosophical histories of Grayling and Russell. I found Hecht to be perceptive and honest in her appraisals of their work, however it is all appropriately summative and expository, not exhaustive. Given the scope and size of the material covered, this book does lend itself to many modes of reading, either choosing to focus on several individual periods or figures, or choosing to focus on the religions in which they were operating. However, as the entire point of this work is that this mode of thinking was universal - from the Carvakas in ancient India to the founders of Jainism, early Greek thought from the schools of Epicurus, Democritus, Diogenes and Epictetus, through the "Dark Ages," Enlightenment, founding fathers of the US and the radical societal changes of the 20th Century - I encourage you to read straight through from the beginning. The connections Hecht draws are never tenuous and she is at all times an erudite and interesting guide.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Arrianne

    I have nearly reached the end and I know I will be starting again when I finish. I enjoy Jennifer's writing style very much. It feels to me like we're two friends walking though a museum and she's giving me the guided tour of my life. She speaks to me in a conversational tone opening up my mind to the secret history of thought. I'm relishing in the choice bits she chooses to quote, like handpicked produce from the grower. She hasn't grabbed the bag of discount apples from a supermarket like so m I have nearly reached the end and I know I will be starting again when I finish. I enjoy Jennifer's writing style very much. It feels to me like we're two friends walking though a museum and she's giving me the guided tour of my life. She speaks to me in a conversational tone opening up my mind to the secret history of thought. I'm relishing in the choice bits she chooses to quote, like handpicked produce from the grower. She hasn't grabbed the bag of discount apples from a supermarket like so many authors do. I think I've grown up a bit and feel the discussion of ideas and their context is much more interesting than a debate on who is right. I will be hunting down and devouring more of her books. As far as her "Scale of Doubt" quiz in the introduction, I must be a true agnostic. I answered "I don't know" to all the questions but two. I would recommend this book to anyone, even the devoutly religious (and having formerly been of that persuasion, I do understand). Of the many arguments for and against the ideas surrounding the concept of God, I felt they where all treated fairly and objectively.

  8. 4 out of 5

    April Hamilton

    This is a hefty, dense tome. There's a lot of quality analysis, history and argument here, but the problem with a book like this is that it's a 'preaching to the choir' sort of exercise. People who are already somewhat doubtful of established cultural institutions will be nodding in agreement and amusement all the way through, and will likely already be familiar with much of the historical and philosophical background the book provides, but those who have a more reverent attitude toward those in This is a hefty, dense tome. There's a lot of quality analysis, history and argument here, but the problem with a book like this is that it's a 'preaching to the choir' sort of exercise. People who are already somewhat doubtful of established cultural institutions will be nodding in agreement and amusement all the way through, and will likely already be familiar with much of the historical and philosophical background the book provides, but those who have a more reverent attitude toward those institutions will not be swayed by anything here. It isn't that I think the book sets out to change hearts and minds, but fails; rather, I think it's a book without much of a point or mission when taken in the context of the people most likely to read it in the first place. By the end I felt I'd learned many interesting factoids and details about the historical figures mentioned, and had gained a little bit more insight into their respective cultures, but that's about all.

  9. 5 out of 5

    M. Nasiri

    Don’t take every fact at face value – instead maintain an impulse for doubt. تاریخچه تردید When you were a kid did your parents ever tell you not to believe everything you see on TV? Well the same goes for all information, regardless of the authority that disseminates it. In order to form your own opinions it’s essential to allow doubt and skepticism a place at the table. Just remember not to fall into despair when nothing seems to add up, because you’re not alone. What connects ancient philosophe Don’t take every fact at face value – instead maintain an impulse for doubt. تاریخچه تردید When you were a kid did your parents ever tell you not to believe everything you see on TV? Well the same goes for all information, regardless of the authority that disseminates it. In order to form your own opinions it’s essential to allow doubt and skepticism a place at the table. Just remember not to fall into despair when nothing seems to add up, because you’re not alone. What connects ancient philosophers like Socrates and Confucius with modern scientists like Einstein? They’re great thinkers, of course, but there is something more, something not mentioned as often as their original ideas and concepts. That something is doubt. Throughout history, doubt and doubters have played a crucial role in the development of what we now know as the modern world. This doubt has been the spark for scientific innovation, a challenge to entrenched authorities, and the foundation for new religions. It’s been the source of despair and reassuring thought alike. Ref: Blinkist.com

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    When one has certainty, there is no more room for further knowledge or understanding. Science and Reason never prove, at the most they can just show things to be less false than other things. There is a long history of people who haven't been certain and their story makes for a much more interesting revealing of human history than the ones who pretend to have no doubt. There are two recurring characters in this marvelous book about doubters throughout history, the Stoic, Cicero and his "On the Na When one has certainty, there is no more room for further knowledge or understanding. Science and Reason never prove, at the most they can just show things to be less false than other things. There is a long history of people who haven't been certain and their story makes for a much more interesting revealing of human history than the ones who pretend to have no doubt. There are two recurring characters in this marvelous book about doubters throughout history, the Stoic, Cicero and his "On the Nature of the Gods", and the Epicurean, Lucretius, and his "On the Nature of Things". Both get major play in this book, firstly when they are introduced and secondly they keep popping up through the rest of the story because their influence with latter sages has been immense. Survey of philosophy books with their chronological presentation can often be dull since they lack a narrative to tie the story together. This book gives that necessary narrative and gives the listener a thread to understand the connections while telling a good story that includes snippets of world history, religion and summaries of what great doubters thought throughout the ages. The author gives enough of the major points and sometimes long quotations from the primary sources to make the book or person under consideration come alive and make the listener feel as if he understands the person who wrote it. For example, I now realize why I enjoy the book of Ecclesiastics so much more than any of the other books in the Bible (it's mostly a Epicurean type polemic on the meaning of life). Her considered amount of time she spends quoting Marcus Aurelius is well worth it for the listener. I've never found anyone who I tend to agree more with and would strongly recommend his "Meditations" which is available at audible, but it might not be necessary to read it if you listen to this book instead. The other thing to like about this book: she does not ignore the East at all. She gives them equal weight to the West throughout the text. Eastern Religions are fully explored since there is a much richer tradition of not being certain, "the more you doubt, the more you understand" would be a typical Eastern religion answer to the refutation of the certainty found in revealed religions. Overall, this book gives a great survey of doubt throughout the ages, with many synopsizes of great thinkers, and all within an overriding narrative tying all the pieces together. I would recommend this book for anyone who does not like to "pretend to know things that they do not know", and wants to understand the firm foundation that entails.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    A masterful work, both in scope and execution. Jennifer Michael Hecht traces the development of doubt, both within religion and without religion, from the ancient Greeks and Indian Charvaka (an ancient materialistic, non-theistic response to Hinduism I'd never even heard of) to Paine, Jefferson and the current crop of modern skeptics and atheists. Along the way, she demonstrates the importance of doubt in challenging assumptions, sparking reflection, and driving thought forward. Hecht is a poet A masterful work, both in scope and execution. Jennifer Michael Hecht traces the development of doubt, both within religion and without religion, from the ancient Greeks and Indian Charvaka (an ancient materialistic, non-theistic response to Hinduism I'd never even heard of) to Paine, Jefferson and the current crop of modern skeptics and atheists. Along the way, she demonstrates the importance of doubt in challenging assumptions, sparking reflection, and driving thought forward. Hecht is a poet and philosopher, and crafts a beautifully written look at the progression of questioning throughout time and across geography. With each prominent figure and movement, we learn which previous thinkers influenced the discussion, which ideas were challenged, and how the world was changed as a result. Doubt is widely defined, and even religious figures play important roles. It's as ambitious as you'd imagine, detailing figures as diverse as Democritus, Epicurus, Job, Koheleth, the Buddha, Confucius, Wang Ch'ung, Cicero, Pliny the Elder, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius, Sextus Empiricus, Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Hypatia, Ibn al-Rawandi, Abu Bakr al-Razi, Maimonides, Pomponazzi, Montaigne, Rabelais, Voltaire, Giordano Bruno, Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Pierre Bayle, Thomas Hobbes, Edward Gibbon, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Harriet Martineau, Susan B. Anthony, Elixabeth Cady Stanton, Emily Dickinson, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, Mark Twain, and Bertrand Russell. That's only a smattering of the personalities involved in this wide-ranging narrative that rings in at 494 densely-packed pages. I'll admit - I put off completing this for many years after hearing Hecht lecture on her (then new) book well over a decade ago. I was delighted to see it available as an unabridged audio book (over 24 hours in length), which was a great format. I plan to return to this book often as a reference.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Simo Ibourki

    A GREAT WONDERFUL HELL OF A BOOK I loved the quotes and book passages, I loved how Mrs Hecht integrated in her book not only atheistic and agnostic doubt (Epicurus, Cicero, Schopenhauer, ...) but also religious doubts (Job, Ecclesiastes, Buddha, Jesus, Jews, ...), I also loved her coverage of doubt in a lot of cultures (eastern world, muslim and jewish world, ...) other than the highly-talked about western philosophy. A highly recommended book for beginners in the field of philosophy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Paul Perry

    Hecht's examination of how doubt has always lived alongside faith since the earliest times is a fascinating work of scholarship. She takes us from the beginnings of philosophy which grew alongside the earliest recorded organised religions, where the act of questioning and doubting was fundamental to the process of philosophy. This unfaith runs like a bright silver thread through history, although many times religion has sought to obscure the fact and expunge it from the records, or recast the pr Hecht's examination of how doubt has always lived alongside faith since the earliest times is a fascinating work of scholarship. She takes us from the beginnings of philosophy which grew alongside the earliest recorded organised religions, where the act of questioning and doubting was fundamental to the process of philosophy. This unfaith runs like a bright silver thread through history, although many times religion has sought to obscure the fact and expunge it from the records, or recast the proponents of doubt in a way that portrays them as faithful. She takes us forward from the Greeks and through Rome, taking in the Jewish tradition - both ancient and medieval - to Gnosticism and throughout the growth of Christianity, branching on the way to bring in the beliefs of Asia and how they had approaches that differed but often embraced doubt far ore strongly than the tradition in the West. She shows us how the explosion of unbelief that was the Enlightenment was built partly on this questioning, and the gradual acceptance that a lack of faith was not only correct and acceptable amongst the intellectual elite but also held no dangers for the masses. Finally, she shows how the meeting of Western Enlightenment and Eastern enlightenment in the 19th and 20th centuries brought yet more strength to those who doubt, and recaps how the great thinkers and writers who have pushed against or broken outside of the bounds of religion have built upon each other, and managed to find the kernels of wisdom in earlier thinkers time and again, despite the best efforts to obscure or marginalise those dangerous thought. A wonderful book which has given me far too many new threads to chase down and consume.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Mchargue

    This broad but meticulous history of ideas helps to correct two widespread errors: the belief among current nonbelievers that previous generations all accepted religion uncritically, and the belief among current believers that atheism is some new, decadent development. The reality is that from the moment the first religious belief existed, the first doubt existed, both in communities and within each individual. People have always struggled with problems of good and evil, sin and grace, sense and This broad but meticulous history of ideas helps to correct two widespread errors: the belief among current nonbelievers that previous generations all accepted religion uncritically, and the belief among current believers that atheism is some new, decadent development. The reality is that from the moment the first religious belief existed, the first doubt existed, both in communities and within each individual. People have always struggled with problems of good and evil, sin and grace, sense and transcendence. As the author documents, these struggles have produced some of the most acute, profound and powerful ideas in human history.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    This book changed my life. I literally took a month to read, highlight, take notes--Hecht is an excellent scholar, and she has done an amazing job of honoring the history of those who QUESTION. She explains that she wanted people to know that doubt has its own existence, not just in response to belief but as a quest for truths that may never be found. Albert Einstein once said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning"--and that's her central point. The subtitle of the book is revealing: This book changed my life. I literally took a month to read, highlight, take notes--Hecht is an excellent scholar, and she has done an amazing job of honoring the history of those who QUESTION. She explains that she wanted people to know that doubt has its own existence, not just in response to belief but as a quest for truths that may never be found. Albert Einstein once said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning"--and that's her central point. The subtitle of the book is revealing: "The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson." I found it powerful that she doesn't shy away from the force of doubt even WITHIN religious structures. Her description of St. Augustine's doubt is wrenching in his utter distress. And I bought the Thomas Jefferson Bible after reading this book, since he held dear the TEACHINGS of Jesus, but removed all the supernatural elements. What Hecht gave ME is best expressed in the last paragraph of the book (I have it highlighted with 2 stars). "The only thing such doubters really need, that believers have, is a sense that people like themselves have always been around, that they are part of a grand history. For its longevity, its productivity, its pluck, its warmth, its service to friend and foe, and its sometimes ruthless commitment to demonstrative truth, I give the palm to the story of doubt." I'd give it TEN stars if allowed.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paul Fidalgo

    A good read, but more importantly, a really solid education; Not simply in terms of the history of doubters, but the history of, well, thought. Of philosophy. For someone who didn't quite get the education he might have liked, this book is a great tour through different ways of thinking about the world, freed from the gauze and blur of supernaturalism.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    I have no words to describe the brilliance and execution here. If the title causes even the least spark of interest for you, read this book. I'm sure this will be one of the most well-loved books on my shelves for the rest of my life.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nik

    What a wonderful experience reading this book. Its like looking back at the history of doubt and realizing that I belong to a culture that is rich and meaningful and deeply intertwined to the culture of belief. This quote from the book summarizes my experience reading it and helps to clarify that I am simply pondering on the shoulders of doubting giants who have come before me. “Theistic religions all have in them an amazing human ability: belief. Belief is one of the best human muscles; it can What a wonderful experience reading this book. Its like looking back at the history of doubt and realizing that I belong to a culture that is rich and meaningful and deeply intertwined to the culture of belief. This quote from the book summarizes my experience reading it and helps to clarify that I am simply pondering on the shoulders of doubting giants who have come before me. “Theistic religions all have in them an amazing human ability: belief. Belief is one of the best human muscles; it can be very good. The religions are all beautiful and horrible, filled with feasts, sacrifices, miracles, wars, songs, lamentations, stained glass, and intense communal joy: everyone kneeling, everyone rocking, everyone silent, everyone nose to the floor. The religions have also been the energy behind much generosity, compassion, and bravery. The story of doubt has all this, too. It also has a relationship to truth that is rigorous, sober, and when necessary, resigned – and it prizes this rigorous approach to truth above the delights of belief. Doubt has its own version of comforts and challenges. From doubt’s beginnings, it has advised that if you create your own desires and model them after what you actually experience, you can be happy… Devote yourself to wisdom, self-knowledge, friends, family, and give some attention to community, money, politics, and pleasure. Know that none of it brings happiness all that consistently. It’s best to stay agile, to keep an open mind. Anyway, if you live long enough, you will likely find yourself believing something that you’d never believe today, or disbelieving. In a funny way the one thing you can really count on is doubt. Expect change, accept death, enjoy life. As Marcus Aurelius explained ‘The brains that got you through the troubles you have had so far will get you through any troubles yet to come”

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dianne

    Only a couple of chapters in so far, and I can already see that Ms. Hecht is a lively but carefully original thinker. Just a couple of examples: - She characterizes the work of the Cynics, Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics as some of the first self-help books in the West. I find this notion appealing, as it shows that supposedly pie-in-the-sky philosophy is actually deeply relevant to how we live, while simultaneously ennobling the much-maligned desire of human beings to read self-help books. - By Only a couple of chapters in so far, and I can already see that Ms. Hecht is a lively but carefully original thinker. Just a couple of examples: - She characterizes the work of the Cynics, Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics as some of the first self-help books in the West. I find this notion appealing, as it shows that supposedly pie-in-the-sky philosophy is actually deeply relevant to how we live, while simultaneously ennobling the much-maligned desire of human beings to read self-help books. - By placing the Hannukah story in its historical, social, and political context, she demonstrates that, less than being a triumph of the Jews over their pagan oppressors, the story is at least partly that of reactionary fundamentalists oppressing freedom of thought and among secular Jews, complete with the slaughter and forcible circumcision by Jews by other Jews. (Secular Jews who choose to celebrate the holiday, Hecht wryly notes, they may wish to "let one candle burn for the other side.") I can't wait to read more!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I have never learned so much from ONE book. Jennifer Michael Hecht'a comprehension of history and philosophy is staggering. The "doubt" of which she speaks is the history of the doubting of God and gods in human thought and society. She goes from the ancient Greeks like Epicurus to Job to Lucretius to Thomas Jefferson to George Carlin and everyone else in between. Her wit and wisdom are evident on every page. I actually high-lighted this book as I read it. If you are a believer, read it. It will I have never learned so much from ONE book. Jennifer Michael Hecht'a comprehension of history and philosophy is staggering. The "doubt" of which she speaks is the history of the doubting of God and gods in human thought and society. She goes from the ancient Greeks like Epicurus to Job to Lucretius to Thomas Jefferson to George Carlin and everyone else in between. Her wit and wisdom are evident on every page. I actually high-lighted this book as I read it. If you are a believer, read it. It will challenge and shake you (hopefully). If you are a disbeliever, read it. You will learn that you are not alone, and that many wise men and women -- brave and honest -- have preceded you. In this book, I found my favorite Zen maxim that I say on a regular basis: "GREAT DOUBT, GREAT AWAKENING. LITTLE DOUBT: LITTLE AWAKENING. NO DOUBT: NO AWAKENING"

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sammi Murphy

    Definitely enjoying.. a lot! So far the chapter on Buddhism has given me the most to think about. Overall this book has morphed my thinking a little into... why can't pieces of doubt come together? I think doubt can shape the way we practice whatever it is we believe. Perhaps what formed from doubt in the Greek gods led to athiesm, but the nontheistic philosophies include meditation and oneness of self and connection with nature and things we could all experience no matter what God or religion we Definitely enjoying.. a lot! So far the chapter on Buddhism has given me the most to think about. Overall this book has morphed my thinking a little into... why can't pieces of doubt come together? I think doubt can shape the way we practice whatever it is we believe. Perhaps what formed from doubt in the Greek gods led to athiesm, but the nontheistic philosophies include meditation and oneness of self and connection with nature and things we could all experience no matter what God or religion we believe in. I think for it seems to be giving a whole new meaning to "open-mindedness".

  22. 4 out of 5

    Book

    Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Michael Hecht “Doubt: A History" is about the history of religious doubt, from all over the world, and from all recorded history. This ambitious and comprehensive book takes us up close and personal with those who have grappled with the ultimate questions of life and found possible answers contrary to traditional faith. Jennifer Hecht provides freethinker Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Michael Hecht “Doubt: A History" is about the history of religious doubt, from all over the world, and from all recorded history. This ambitious and comprehensive book takes us up close and personal with those who have grappled with the ultimate questions of life and found possible answers contrary to traditional faith. Jennifer Hecht provides freethinkers with a reference-quality book that captures the essence of doubt. This is an excellent and commendable book that I will cherish for years to come because it succeeds at providing a broad and insightful coverage of the history of doubt. This 576-page book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Whatever Happened to Zeus and Hera?, 600 BCE–1CE, Greek Doubt 2. Smacking the Temple, 600 BCE-1 CE, Doubt and the Ancient Jews3. What the Buddha Saw, 600 BCE–1 CE, Ancient Doubt in Asia, 4. When in Rome in Doubt, 50 BCE-200 CE, Empire of Reason 5. Christian Doubt, Zen, Elisha, and Hypatia, 1-800 CE, Late Classical Mix 6. Medieval Doubt Loops-the-Loop, 800-1400, Muslims to Jews to Christians 7. The Printing Press and the Age of Martyrs, 1400-1600, Renaissance and Inquisition 8. Sunspots and White House Doubters, 1600-1800, Revolutions in the Authority of Reason 9. Doubt’s Bid for a Better World, 1800-1900, and Freethinking in the Age of Science and Reform 10. Principles of Uncertainty, 1900-. Positives: 1. Fascinating topic in the master hands of an author who cared. 2. As well-researched a book as you will find. 3. Accessible prose. 4. This is a very comprehensive and thorough book. The author meticulously covers a broad history of doubters and periods. Commendable effort for sure. 5. Fair and even-handed. The author really treats the subject with utmost care and respect. I trust her assessment based on the overall treatment of this topic. 6. A look at the worldview of many of the doubters within the context of the time in which they lived in. 7. I like how the author explains how doubters were influenced by the works of their predecessors. Also, the particular contributions of each doubter. In some cases, some of the doubters borrow literary works and add their own particular flare. 8. The impact of the Greeks to the history of the world even to this day is really remarkable. Aristotle just amazes me. 9. The author does a great job of giving us the background of the most important terms, such as agnosticism, skepticism, etc… 10. A fascinating look at Job and Ecclesiastes. 11. The history of religious beliefs. The author masterfully provides the history of doubt within all the major religions including those from the Far East. 12. The relation between women and religion. 13. A look at some of the religious practices and what they represent. 14. Wisdom from some of the greatest minds ever. Great stuff! 15. The evolution of religious movements. 16. The fascinating look at the afterlife, souls, infinity… 17. An interesting look at “Atheistic” religions. 18. Gods and Goddesses. 19. So many great doubters…Epicurus seems to stand out. 20. Great philosophy throughout book. You get the viewpoints from so many great minds. 21. Jewish history is always fascinating. 22. The impact of Paul to Christianity can never be underestimated. 23. The terrible story of Hypatia. 24. Martyrs of the cause...Bruno, Vanini 25. The Copernican heliocentric system. 26. The travels of the Jesuits. 27. Galileo never gets old. 28. So many perspectives of doubt..."Bayle upheld Montaigne's that religious claims are not confirmed by any inner knowledge, but instead were fed to us in our childhoods". 29. Hume masterfully debunks popular arguments for gods. 30. Franklin, Paine, Jefferson, and Adams highlight the founding doubters. 31. The women of doubt: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emma Goldman, Anne Newport Royall, Harriet Taylor, Harriet Martineau, Frances Wright, Ernestine Rose, Susan B. Anthony... 32. The funniest statement in the history of doubt, belongs to... 33. The icon of biology, Darwin always makes his presence felt. His undeniable contribution to doubt. Darwinism. 34. Great quotes, "If by any possibility the existence of a power superior to, and independent of, nature shall be demonstrated, there will be time enough to kneel. Until then let us stand erect." Robert Ingersoll. 35. Doubt and the antislavery movement. 36. Doubt in the twentieth century included doubting authority and custom. 37. I really enjoyed the section on secular nations. 38. I also loved the section on Americana doubters. Thomas Edison was truly "enlightening". 39. The "Monkey Trial" enduring impact to doubt. 40. An excellent chapter titled, "Conclusion" that does a wonderful job of summarizing the book. 41. Links to notes worked great on Kindle version. 42. Comprehensive bibliography. Negatives: 1. Requires an investment of time. The book can be exhaustive at times but ultimately it rewards you with so much history. 2. Because of my scientific/engineering background I’m always wanting for charts and this book is no different. I would have liked to have seen a timeline chart covering the most influential doubters. 3. Repetitive at times. In summary, this is reference-quality book regarding the history of doubt. The author must be commended for such an achievement. This book covers so much and does it quite well. To use perhaps a weak baseball analogy, there are two well know ways for a baseball player to make the hall-of-fame: produce spectacular numbers in a few years like Sandy Koufax or accumulate consistent numbers over a productive long career ala Carl Yastrzemski. I feel this book is the latter, a consistent hit of information. I highly recommend it! Further recommendations: "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby, “Man Made God” by Barbara G. Walker, "People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn, "American Fascists" by Chris Hedges, and "The Conservative Assault on the Constitution" by Erwin Chemerinsky.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Peter Thomason

    This is a remarkable book and Jennifer Hecht is quite a scholar. In the canon of the History of Ideas I would rank it with The Art of Memory by Frances Yates, another wonderful scholar. Reading both of these studies was like taking a 15-week graduate course so I took my time, read slowly, and used my TASIIRR technique: Take notes; Ask questions; Skim first; Impress, associate, repeat; Introduce to others; Read aloud; Read on paper, for maximum retention. Hecht takes the approach in this survey of This is a remarkable book and Jennifer Hecht is quite a scholar. In the canon of the History of Ideas I would rank it with The Art of Memory by Frances Yates, another wonderful scholar. Reading both of these studies was like taking a 15-week graduate course so I took my time, read slowly, and used my TASIIRR technique: Take notes; Ask questions; Skim first; Impress, associate, repeat; Introduce to others; Read aloud; Read on paper, for maximum retention. Hecht takes the approach in this survey of the known history of doubt of attempting to link lots of thinkers over the ages into a more or less continuous chain that represents an alternative intellectual history worthy of study and consideration in its own right. Whether you are a doubter or a believer this is well worth the time and effort it will take to give this book its due.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Charlene

    For the first 1/3 of this book, Hecht kept referring to life as a happy accident. She obviously subscribes heavily to Dawkins "life is an accident" brand of atheism. Dawkins himself wrote about how there doesn't need to be a watchmaker in the clockwork universe; and yet, he doesn't seem to understand that if he admits that the emergence of life was actually likely on Earth, and not a miraculous accident, it doesn't imply a god. Considering the conditions when our galaxy formed, when our solar sy For the first 1/3 of this book, Hecht kept referring to life as a happy accident. She obviously subscribes heavily to Dawkins "life is an accident" brand of atheism. Dawkins himself wrote about how there doesn't need to be a watchmaker in the clockwork universe; and yet, he doesn't seem to understand that if he admits that the emergence of life was actually likely on Earth, and not a miraculous accident, it doesn't imply a god. Considering the conditions when our galaxy formed, when our solar system, formed, where our planet lies in relation to our sun, the creation of our moon, and so on, it's not surprising that life arose. It's likely life has arisen on other planets, whether now or in the past. The universe is vast and old. It is a creationist mindset to suppose that the first cells miraculously and accidentally appeared. It's so frustrating to listen to that sort of language from educated people-- people fighting creationists no less. That brand of atheism is so 1970s. We now know more about thermodynamics. We know how the hot, fast moving energy has traveled through space time, making form after form. Researchers are continually mapping out more and more of that picture, allowing them to see how the first stars (so inefficient because they couldn't even use the CNO cycle to make elements) gave rise to more efficient stars that, in turn, gave rise to planets, and so on. Life is something to marvel at, for certain. However, it's not a magical event -- e.g. (creationist) God put humans on earth fully formed because they did not evolve from apes or microbes or (Dawkins brand of atheism) some unforeseen and miraculous accident. There are patterns at work, created by the laws of physics, which gave rise to a volcanic planet, which gave rise to hydrothermal vents, which gave rise to rocky protocells, which gave rise to cells with fatty acid membranes, which gave rise to the more complex plants and animals we see today. It's just a matter of figuring out the pieces to the puzzle. Dawkins and Hecht make the same mistake creationists do. If they can't answer why we are here, they make up a story about miracles. A miraculous superhero in the sky who put us here or a miraculous accident. No thanks to both. I just want science. You can keep your miracles. The rest of the book was absolutely outstanding. What a concept! I wish I had come up with the idea to write about the history of doubt. It makes me want to give the book 5 stars despite the constant rhetoric about our accidental existence. But I just cannot bring myself to do that. I highly recommend this book but I recommend that you take her brand of "miraculous accident atheism" with a grain of salt.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    Summing up nearly 3000 years of history on a subject as vast as 'doubt' is certainly an undertaking (one Hecht just manages to pull off) and at times the books does feel like a mere laundry-list of freethinkers, many of their names I have already forgotten. But other sections (like her attention to freethinking women throughout the ages) more than make up for it. Some sections seem far too brief (almost dumbed down) but I suppose if they weren't this book would be about 3000 pages. My biggest c Summing up nearly 3000 years of history on a subject as vast as 'doubt' is certainly an undertaking (one Hecht just manages to pull off) and at times the books does feel like a mere laundry-list of freethinkers, many of their names I have already forgotten. But other sections (like her attention to freethinking women throughout the ages) more than make up for it. Some sections seem far too brief (almost dumbed down) but I suppose if they weren't this book would be about 3000 pages. My biggest criticism is that I simply didn't care for her writing style, even the quote I added to my Goodread page seems rather awkwardly worded (but I liked the thought she was expressing enough to add it anyway.) I still gave it a high rating because it was thorough without being monotonous and she certainly introduced me to numerous characters I had never heard of before. This is certainly one of those books that references so many other great books it will cause your to-read list to grow immensely and unlike many similar recent books it avoids being polemical. Hecht writes on the very last page of Doubt: "The only thing doubters really need, that believers have, is a sense that people like themselves have always been around, and that they are part of a grand history" and Hecht's book certainly goes a long way to illuminate that grand history (even for those of us who thought we already knew most of it.)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Meadows13 Meadows

    I have yet to read a book by Ms. Hecht that I didn't find very thought provoking. For an agnostic like myself, this was a enlightening journey through millenia of the history of doubt over religious dogma and theology. It contains more fantasticly memorable and stimulating passages than I'll attempt to repeat here. It was incredibly affirming to read that renowned persons from hundreds or even thousands of years ago were expressing the exact same doubts that have marked my personal philosophical I have yet to read a book by Ms. Hecht that I didn't find very thought provoking. For an agnostic like myself, this was a enlightening journey through millenia of the history of doubt over religious dogma and theology. It contains more fantasticly memorable and stimulating passages than I'll attempt to repeat here. It was incredibly affirming to read that renowned persons from hundreds or even thousands of years ago were expressing the exact same doubts that have marked my personal philosophical journey. Ms. Hecht is an 'equal opportunity' skeptic; quoting doubters of ancient Greek, Christian, and Moslem theologies. You and I are not the first to respond to a religous story or item of theology with the response of, "I strongly doubt that a god worthy of the title would do that." If you choose to read this book, you will come away with the strong sense that while metephysical philosophical musing is a fascinating activity, all theology is a load of bunkum (a polite substitute for 'BS'). The more certain the speaker is about the absolute truth of their theology, the stronger the smell. The belief that religion is needed to keep the ignorant masses under control and docile were expressed far earlier than Karl Marx - think 500 BC - and about every religion man has invented to comfort himself from the painful aspects of life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    I thought this book was just fantastic. After reading the first chapter I grabbed a highlighter and started over, there was just so much goodness in the form of quotes from and life experiences of religious doubters and nonbelievers through out history. Like books I've read by Sagan and Hitchens, I found this book inspiring and an affirmation of my own non-belief. I was familiar with many of the doubters in the book but not so familiar with the particular details of their lives and struggles to I thought this book was just fantastic. After reading the first chapter I grabbed a highlighter and started over, there was just so much goodness in the form of quotes from and life experiences of religious doubters and nonbelievers through out history. Like books I've read by Sagan and Hitchens, I found this book inspiring and an affirmation of my own non-belief. I was familiar with many of the doubters in the book but not so familiar with the particular details of their lives and struggles to convey their philosophies in a believing world. In many cases their revelations cost them their lives. This book was very comprehensive (beginning with the Greeks ~600 BCE) and well researched as evidenced by the 25 pages of notes. And although it contained a hefty text book's amount of information, the smooth writing style and occasional humor made it an easy book to read. Highly recommended to those who have their own doubts or those who would like to learn another side of history, a side which often times never made it into the history books you read in school.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andy Payne

    This magnificent work, full of enthralling portraits of the world's great sceptics, and landscapes of the times and cultures they inhabited, provides an invaluable history of serious thought. While an enormous amount of scholarship, analysis and deep thinking has obviously gone into it, the writing is always accessible, frequently surprising, and often moving. I learnt a great deal, not least about myself. I shall never forget the feelings of certainty and melancholy that wrapped around me as I This magnificent work, full of enthralling portraits of the world's great sceptics, and landscapes of the times and cultures they inhabited, provides an invaluable history of serious thought. While an enormous amount of scholarship, analysis and deep thinking has obviously gone into it, the writing is always accessible, frequently surprising, and often moving. I learnt a great deal, not least about myself. I shall never forget the feelings of certainty and melancholy that wrapped around me as I closed the book; certainty because at last I knew that my long journey from brainwashed child to free adult was somehow at an end; and melancholy because now I needed to find a way to be content that this wonderful life would be my only one. Ms Hecht's entrancing discussion of, and obvious admiration for, Epicurus, gave me a great head start in that direction and a strong desire to discover more. Deliciously liberating, this history of doubt ironically dispelled much of my own, by confirming its value. It really is okay to doubt. Indeed, it should probably be a duty.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tommy Carlson

    I can't say enough good things about this book. It's long. It's detailed. I loved every minute of it. The subtitle explains it well: "The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson." That's exactly what it does, looking at various philosophers and philosophies, tracing the ideas through the ages, watching how they change. It's fascinating. One thing I loved about it was that it isn't an atheist polemic. It covers some atheists, sur I can't say enough good things about this book. It's long. It's detailed. I loved every minute of it. The subtitle explains it well: "The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson." That's exactly what it does, looking at various philosophers and philosophies, tracing the ideas through the ages, watching how they change. It's fascinating. One thing I loved about it was that it isn't an atheist polemic. It covers some atheists, sure, but also believers with their own forms and levels of doubt. Sure, some religions look pretty bad during some eras. That's because they were pretty bad during those eras. Another thing I loved is that it provides enough background on various religious movements for me to understand the changes in doubt that react to those movements, while not boring me if I happen to already know the details of a particular religion. The only weakness is the last chapter, which spends a little too much time listing current doubters based on fame rather than ideas.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Well, everyone else has been far more eloquent about this book than I could ever hope to be, but I did want to add a couple of small things. First, I don't remember the last time I read a nonfiction book, particularly a history of any kind, that was so enthusiastic. I mean, there were exuberant exclamation marks in this book. Maybe this is my own fault and I need to do more reading, but those exclamation marks were refreshing. Second, I very much appreciated the awe and the wit. Hecht seems to kno Well, everyone else has been far more eloquent about this book than I could ever hope to be, but I did want to add a couple of small things. First, I don't remember the last time I read a nonfiction book, particularly a history of any kind, that was so enthusiastic. I mean, there were exuberant exclamation marks in this book. Maybe this is my own fault and I need to do more reading, but those exclamation marks were refreshing. Second, I very much appreciated the awe and the wit. Hecht seems to know exactly when to be reverent and when to pull out the clown shoes. Third, it was so comforting to come to the end of the book and find that what I took away from it was exactly what the author wanted. I've been a lonely doubter a lot in my life. Reading this book gave me far more confidence to out myself as an atheist, and made me feel that I'm a part of a fellowship that stretches deep into our history. Thank you JMH!!!

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