Doubt: A History Book Summary - Doubt: A History Book explained in key points
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Doubt: A History summary

Jennifer Michael Hecht

The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson

3.5 (60 ratings)
20 mins
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    Doubt: A History
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    Doubt, an influential force throughout time, has often been omitted from the history books.

    Do you remember sitting in history class and learning about all the incredible people, full of creative ideas, who stuck to their convictions and changed the world? Well, while they’re certainly captivating, the stories history tells us tend to omit one thing: doubt.


    Because the arguments and even the existence of doubters have often been wiped from the slates of history by states and religions, probably because doubters have tended to be fringe critics of just those institutions. Naturally, a state or religion wouldn’t want to give much credence to these naysayers and would avoid acknowledging them whenever possible.

    Take Judaism. In 200 BCE many Jewish communities replaced their traditions with customs from Greek culture, including its language, communal exercise, and even aspects of Greek religion.

    The result?

    Some Jewish authorities viewed these communities as a threat and destroyed them. Now they’re barely referred to in Judaism’s official religious texts.

    But even when history does mention doubters it tends to essentialize them as individuals with specific ideas. This results in a further eclipsing of the greater histories of doubt and the connections between them.

    In fact, it’s even possible for a trained historian like the author to miss the signs of doubt. The history of doubt was always in her peripheral vision as she worked on other projects, and it took time for her to focus on it. It wasn’t until she saw the sheer number of doubters through history and how their ideas influenced one another that she got the idea to write a book on the subject.

    And it’s lucky for you that she did, because the history of doubt encompasses both highly abstract and unknown thinkers as well as some of the most brilliant minds ever to exist. But how far back does this history go?

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    What is Doubt: A History about?

    Doubt: A History (2004) is a journey through one of time’s best kept secrets: the people who have stood up to accepted truths, even when it cost them their lives. These blinks share the stories of doubters with conviction from Ancient Greece and India to the modern era, and how they have shaped the way we live and think today.

    Best quote from Doubt: A History

    Plato offers the amazing idea that contemplation of the way things really are is, in itself, a purifying process that can bring human beings into the only divinity there is.

    —Jennifer Michael Hecht
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    Who should read Doubt: A History?

    • Anyone wanting to learn about the history of doubters and their observations
    • People who want to know what connects seemingly unrelated figures like Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin and Job
    • Anyone interested in religion and its critics

    About the Author

    Jennifer Michael Hecht is an American teacher, writer and philosopher. Her other well-known books include The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong and Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. In addition to non-fiction, she is a prolific writer and publisher of poetry.

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