The Globe and Mail published my review of Simon Winchester's new biography of Joseph Needham today (it can be read here). There is a paragraph that I wrote that was not used by them. Here it is:
"Simon Winchester has published 19 books to date many of them non-fiction about East Asia. The Man Who Loved China follows along the lines of Winchester's bestseller The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the 'Oxford English Dictionary' that came out to much acclaim 10 years ago. Winchester had full access to the massive collection of Needham papers held at the Cambridge Library and Needham Research Institute including Needham's diaries and letters. He was also able to interview a large number of people that Needham had known and worked with. The book is a very compelling read. But to make it so, Winchester has selected out those colourful aspects of Needham that emphasize the man's eccentricity, but are ultimately rather trivializing of one of the greatest scholars of the 20th century. Needham is often aptly compared to the 15th century scholar Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, after all. So in Winchester's telling Needham comes off as more shallow and self-indulgent than he truly was. Joseph Needham deserves a more serious and comprehensive biography that does much better justice to his place in modern intellectual history."