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Extended Audio Sample Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason, by Russell Shorto Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Russell Shorto Narrator: Paul Hech Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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.” 


  • “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
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