Descartes' Bones by Russell Shorto - Book Review

Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason by Russell Shorto tells the tale of French philosopher and mathematician RenĂ© Descartes, a man many consider to be the father of modern philosophy and the mathematician who connected geometry and algebra, from his death through the folio of history. The premise, that the exhumation and travels of Descartes Bones form a fulcrum on which much of history resides, follows the path of Descartes’ bones through eras of Enlightenment, Revolution and onward to our continuing challenge of faith vs. reason.

Shorto is a good writer; he quickly engages the reader and his revealing of history is a far cry from those dreary textbooks. He’s obviously a curious and probing writer as the tale includes not only fact, but also anecdote and insight. There were many passages where I was fully affianced with the text.

The setback, and the reason I picked this book up and down for over a month before completion, is that the premise is too skeletal to hold the load Shorto assigns. My thoughts kept running off on side notes and by the time I was half through I had lost sight of the meat of the tale. Perhaps I’ve read to many Da Vinci Code style fictional narratives, but Descartes' Bones left me unfulfilled at having learned anything of historical weight.

Perhaps those with an interest in philosophy, and especially Descartes, might find some new insight here, but for the average historical reader, the final page turns with a jumble of small thoughts and little connections.

© 2007-2009


caite said...

Cogito, ergo sum!

...at least I think so....


Blog Archive