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Download Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason Audiobook, by Russell Shorto Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (858 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Russell Shorto Narrator: Paul Hecht Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2008 ISBN: 9781436180740
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On a brutal winter’s day in 1650 in Stockholm, the Frenchman René Descartes, the most influential and controversial thinker of his time, was buried after a cold and lonely death far from home. Sixteen years later, the French Ambassador Hugues de Terlon secretly unearthed Descartes’ bones and transported them to France.

Why would this devoutly Catholic official care so much about the remains of a philosopher who was hounded from country to country on charges of atheism? Why would Descartes’ bones take such a strange, serpentine path over the next 350 years—a path intersecting some of the grandest events imaginable, involving people from all walks of life?

The answer lies in Descartes’ famous phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” The notion that one could find truth in facts that could be proved, and not in reliance on tradition and the Church’s teachings, would become a turning point in human history.

The great controversy Descartes ignited continues to our era. Descartes’ Bones is a historical detective story about the creation of the modern mind, with twists and turns leading up to the present day—to the science museum in Paris where the philosopher’s skull now resides and to the church a few kilometers away where, not long ago, a philosopher-priest said a mass for his bones.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Many strains of thought converge around Descartes and his physical remains…Mr. Shorto has used them as the basis of an investigative book...[that] attest to Mr. Shorto’s intellectual adventurousness and dogged curiosity....Mr. Shorto leaps from one intriguing topic to another, doing it with verve... His insights are keen. And he is as drawn to great, overarching ideas as he is to historical factoids. Descartes’ posthumous journey happens to be rich with both.” 

    New York Times

  • “[A] smart, elegantly writtenfeat of intellectual of intellectual story-telling.” 

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Giving rein to his curiosity about the postmortem Descartes, Shorto will pull in readers who enjoy a good history mystery seasoned with philosophical thoughts.” 

    Booklist

  • “Learning lightly worn but hard won; would that all philosophical history were so accessible.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • One of the 2008 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Phyllis Harrison | 2/6/2014

    " An interesting look at how one man's life changed history and the battle over his bones centuries after his death. Some admire him, others despise him but he changed the world. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Timothy Finucane | 1/26/2014

    " It read like an episode of the old science channel show Connections. Running through all the people and scientists who were involved with the remains of Descartes, connections were made with all the associated scientific discoveries of each individual discussed. Interesting read from a history of science perspective. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jane | 1/14/2014

    " Well written and engaging. Took me quite a while as my interest came and went, but in that way a good one to have on the bedside table in conjunction with others. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Marfy | 1/6/2014

    " Don't know why this book did not engage me. Only got half the way through. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Helene | 1/5/2014

    " kinda dry. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Fara | 1/4/2014

    " If you are a fan of Descartes this is a must read...sort of an introduction to the man before taking on the heavy texts. This book provides a quick view to society progress or regress (depent of your viewpoint) within the separation between religion and reason. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mignon De Klerk | 1/3/2014

    " Colorful braid of history, philosophy, and biography. Every page was fascinating, following Descartes and his legacy through centuries of science, politics, religion, and more. The book achieves all this, as well as a warm, compelling - even surprising - portrait of the man himself. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Tsuki | 4/10/2013

    " This is a truly fascinating book, and while at times it was tempting to put down I pushed through, and I am so very glad that I did. I love philosophy, and to see how philosophies are perceived in different times through something as iconic as Descartes skull is fascinating. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Enid | 2/11/2013

    " Learned something about the history of philosophy and science after Middle Ages. Subtitle: A skeletal history of the conflict between faith and reason. Author does not discount faith. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Sidney | 2/6/2013

    " My suggestion is to read Descartes instead. This might have made a nice magazine article. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Brie | 10/22/2012

    " Pretty dry and dull. Somewhat informative, so I finished it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bob LaVelle | 12/15/2011

    " Long on the peregrination of his bones, short on the history of the conflict between faith and reason, this is still a fascinating review of Descartes' legacy. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Laura | 8/23/2011

    " An interesting tale of how Descartes' bones wandered about Europe and were involved in the French revolution. Not as good a synthesis of the religious and scientific outlooks as the introduction suggested it would be, however. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Fara | 4/26/2011

    " If you are a fan of Descartes this is a must read...sort of an introduction to the man before taking on the heavy texts. This book provides a quick view to society progress or regress (depent of your viewpoint) within the separation between religion and reason. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jeannette | 4/18/2011

    " I enjoyed this book, for its historic detail and surprising sense of humor. A very interesting digest of modernism, reason, and religion. I sort of loved it, and I feel smarter for having read it (note: big difference between feeling smarter and being smarter), but I've done my part. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bonnie Gayle | 4/11/2011

    " April bookgroup. Not a quick read!

    It was an interesting book, very thought provoking, and there was a great discussion. This author also wrote The Island at the Center of the World, which I've been wanting to read for awhile now. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jayme | 3/22/2011

    " The fact that I didn't finish it should tell you something. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Barbara | 2/2/2011

    " Who's buried in Descartes' tomb?

    Spoiler alert: not Descartes.
    I need to brush up on my philosphers. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Nancy | 1/3/2011

    " The story of modern thought and philosophy "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Mr.B | 10/2/2010

    " An interesting concept for a book: the historical search for the true skeleton of Rene Descartes, complete with lots of information about everything remotely relevant. Net effect, mostly boring. Recommended for hard-core fans of Cartesian philosophy and method. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Julie | 9/18/2010

    " Loved this! Descartes was the man. Seriously. "

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About the Author
Author Russell Shorto

Russell Shorto is the bestselling author of The Island at the Center of the WorldGospel Truth, and Saints and Madmen. He is a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and the director of the John Adams Institute in Amsterdam, where he lives.

About the Narrator

Paul Hecht’s long career in audio books spans dozens of titles and authors as varied as Ray Bradbury and Gore Vidal, Jack Finney and Thomas Mann. He has recorded such books as Bob Dole’s One Soldier’s Story and Alexander McCall Smith’s Portuguese Irregular Verbs and At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances. Hecht’s theater career in New York includes many Broadway and television credits.