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The extended subtitle summarizes the book nicely: “The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.” With some 500 pages of actual text, this is clearly "a grand sweeping history" of the many many “heroes of doubt”: Confucius, Socrates, Pyrrho of Elis, Epicurus, Job, Koheleth (aka “Ecclesiastes”) Jesus, Wang Ch’ung, Hypatia, Ibn al-Rawandi and Abu Bakr al-Razi (two major authors of Muslim doubt), Abu Walid ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd (AverroŽs), Maimonides, Galileo, Darwin, Marie Curie, Emily Dickinson, Wittgenstein and Margaret Sanger...and many more. Along the way she discusses the birth of the Renaissance, debunks myths about the 12th C. Scholastics (that “angels on the head of a pin” thing); the first “photographer” (Gersonides, 248); al-Ghazzali’s concept of miracles as faux attempts at reason, 236); the sordid history of the Hasmoneans/Maccabees and invention of Hannukah, 61). All of these are almost surprisingly well-explained as elements of the history of skepticism.
Hecht’s scholarship, at least as evidenced in the footnotes and bibliography, seems impeccable, though one almost has to wonder how one person could have read and absorbed the philosophies of hundreds upon hundreds of the world’s famous thinkers (though she does have a Ph.D. in the history of science).
On the negative side, although there are hundreds of citations per chapter, there are a number of surprisingly missing citations for certain quotes. Perhaps the author figured it was obvious from the context but usually it is not. Along this line, the one pesky quibble I have with the Notes section is the absence of Chapter names — instead of just saying “Chapter Six,” it would cost literally nothing to simply add “Medieval Doubt” so that we footnote-checkers can make sure we’re in the right section since there are 80-100 footnotes for each chapter.
My other minor quibble is that I would love to be able to consult some of the texts she cites of the Muslim scholars but either these books aren't accessible from online sources or else perhaps don't physically exist any more. So if anyone knows how to find Abu Bakr al-Razi's "The Prophet’s Fraudulent Tricks" or Ibn al-Rawandi's "Against the Koran," please let me know.
 

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