I just finished reading Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Seekers – The Story of Man’s Continuing Quest to Understand His World. Man’s attempt to answer the “why are we here?”, “what does it all mean?” questions.
This book is the third in an unofficial trilogy of Boorstin’s works attempting to tell the story of man’s search for new lands, new arts and new ways to understand the world in which we live. The first, The Discoverers, focused on man expanding his realm, both physically – Magellan and other explorers – and intellectually (science and technology), from the invention of clocks through Galileo to splitting the atom. The second, The Creators, is about man’s creations: art, music, literature and other works of the imagination.
I liked The Seekers greatly – Boorstin can’t seem to write a bad book – but I didn’t like it as much as the earlier two books in the trilogy.
I get the sense that, in writing The Seekers, Boorstin had run out of energy or enthusiasm for the concept he began in The Discoverers. For example, the first two books clocked in at 700+ pages; this one was only about 250.
All three of Boorstin’s books kind of seemed the same to me in that he spent the bulk of the story in the ancient times – the time of Greece and Rome, for example – but once he hit the industrial revolution he kind of rushed to the end. At least that’s my impression. It could be that Boorstin just is more familiar/enamored with ancient times than modern times. Or it could be that my perception is out of whack, simply because I’m more familiar with modern history. Whatever.
But whether it’s just my perception that Boorstin, in general, peters out at the end of the books, I do have some evidence that The Seekers wasn’t as full an effort as the two earlier books.
The Seekers is about man’s search to understand the world: Myths, religions, the battle between religion and the rise of science, philosophy and so on. Yet there is no mention – at all – of Lenin, Freud or Jung. Yet all three helped shape the 20th Century, for better or for worse.
And while Existentialism is touched on, it’s mainly about Godot, with Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche and other existential giants mentioned only in passing.
Nihilism isn’t even mentioned, yet Swedenborg is (in passing, but at least twice, I think).
Complaints aside, an overall great book. Reading Boorstin is humbling: I don’t know if he’s that smart or just a good researcher, but the vast amount of data he presents – and ties to earlier/upcoming sections of the book – is just amazing. And he ended the book with section on Einstein, and how the physicist changed the way we look at space and time. I’m a big Einstein fan, so the book went out on an up note to me!
Makes you feel enlightened, but overall, pretty stupid compared to him.
My favorite of the three books is easily The Discoverers: It’s one of my all-time favorite books. Yep, it’s a door-stopper of a book, but you’ll be glad to took the time to wade through it or just poke around in it. Trust me…