A New York Times Notable Book
Sixteen years after RenÉ Descartes' death in Stockholm in 1650, a pious French ambassador exhumed the remains of the controversial philosopher to transport them back to Paris. Thus began a 350-year saga that saw Descartes' bones traverse a continent, passing between kings, philosophers, poets, and painters.
But as Russell Shorto shows in this deeply engaging book, Descartes' bones also played a role in some of the most momentous episodes in history, which are also part of the philosopher's metaphorical remains: the birth of science, the rise of democracy, and the earliest debates between reason and faith. Descartes' Bones is a flesh-and-blood story about the battle between religion and rationalism that rages to this day.
BONUS MATERIAL: This ebook edition includes an excerpt from Russell Shorto's Amsterdam .
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|Title of eBook: Descartes' Bones|
|Release Date: 10-14-2008|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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|Parent title||Descartes' Bones|
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IN THE SOUTHERN EDGE OF STOCKHOLM'S OLD Town stands a four-story building that was constructed during the busy, fussy period called the Baroque. Its red-brick facade is ornamented with sandstone cherubs and crests. Two upright cannons flank the entry; bearded busts gaze down sternly on those who approach the door. If you could somehow ignore the designer handbag shop and the upscale "Glenfiddich Warehouse" restaurant/bar occupying the ground floor, and the streams of tourists moving past on a summer afternoon, the structure would probably seem very much of the year--1630--when a merchant named Erik von der Linde built it.
In the dead of night in the dead of winter in the year 1650, the most solemn rite of passage was playing out on an upper floor of this building. People hurried between rooms, past windows that looked out onto the dark, icy harbor below, exchanging information and worried looks. But if the occasion was grave, it wasn't quiet. For someone close to death, the man who lay in bed--not quite fifty-four years old, small-boned, ashen, the center of everyone's attention--was alarmingly active. It was fury that gave him these last bursts of adrenaline. His friend and protege Pierre Chanut, the French ambassador to Sweden, in whose house he lay dying, was at his side constantly, trying to manage the man's anger while feeling doubly guilty: it was he who had urged Rene Descartes to come to this frozen land and he who had first contracted a fever, through which Descartes had nursed him before catching it himself.
Chanut fervently believed that Descartes was in the process of transforming the world with his revolutionary thinking. In this he was essentially correct. A ch...