Feb 9, 2010

The Closing of the Western Mind, by Charles Freeman

This is, I'm afraid to report, a rather underwhelming book. Biased, conventional, unoriginal, and vague, this book is much more a history book for the layman than it is a probing book for the scholar. The premise - that Christianity systematically destroyed rational thought as epitomized by the Greeks - ends up getting lost in the historical background and eventually even undermined. Instead, the real conclusion, and one that would have made for a much more interesting book, is that Constantine and his successors, by giving Christianity pride of place in the empire and seeking to use it as a means of social cohesion and control, created the culture of homogeneity that was to lead Christianity inexorably towards the so-called "Dark Ages."

Instead, we get about 300 pages of mere historical description, and the remaining 40 pages consists of actual analysis. What is most unfortunate about the book is the fact that Freeman, instead of starting with a problem and doing research in order to seek out an answer - as historians and other scholars are expected to do - started with his conclusion and then used evidence that only backed it up. This is trick history, lay-scholarship at its most insidious. There are no opposing view points, so counter-arguments. A layman would be easily convinced, but that is only because Freeman has told half the story, at best. All it takes is one look at the other books he has written, e.g. "The Greek Achievement" to know he is remarkably biased. It's a shame, really, since his writing is readable and understandable, particularly from a lay perspective. Over all, this is a disappointing read.