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Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,690 followers
August 23, 2018
“The history of doubt is not only a history of the denial of God; it is also a history of those who have grappled with the religious questions and found the possibility of other answers.”
― Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History


Hecht's historical survey of doubt is a lot of things and seems to do them all very well. It is a defense of doubt, a survey of doubt, a biography of doubters, a family tree of doubt's relatives. It looks at doubt both from within and external to belief. It examines the motives and believers and gives each its appropriate doubting due.

Ikkyu Sojun, fifteenth century C.E., ink on paper

I found the book to be highly readable. Strange to say, it was almost TOO readable. I felt myself slipping through the pages almost too fast. It has given me a whole new group of thinkers and philosophers to examine. I was very familiar with many of the doubters in Western and Classical traditions, but Hecht gave me a whole new group of Eastern, Jewish and Muslim doubters to get to know. Plus, even with those nonbelievers & skeptics I was familiar with (Lucretius, Montaigne, Spinoza, Cicero, Epicurus, Pliny, Gibbon, Paine, Jefferson, Bruno, etc.) she gave me whole new approaches and windows to see them through.

Finally, Hecht also found an appropriate way to thread the Book of Job writer, Jesus, Buddha, Qohelet (wrote Ecclesiastes), etc., into the framework of doubt. I think the book would have been crippled without it. Finally, she didn't avoid the negative, state-sponsored doubt period (Fascism, Communism) of the 20th century. Not all doubters do good things. Anyway, it was worth the money and the time for sure and will be re-read in the future.
Profile Image for Robert Schneider.
Author 1 book262 followers
March 5, 2008
What is it they say? "History is written by the winners."

That is unless you're Howard Zinn ("People's History of the United States") or Jennifer Michael Hecht, writing "Doubt: A History." No, I'm not calling these two "losers," but they definitely adopted Quixotic missions in championing the unspoken viewpoint of "the other side" of history.

And both turned out encyclopedic tomes on their respective topics. But as much as I enjoyed Zinn's take on American History (recommended, by the way, by Matt Damon's off-hand line in "Good Will Hunting" -- How do you like THEM apples?), Hecht is superior in my view in delivering the more meaningful and important record of a branch of thought that is not only often ignored, but ostracized, pilloried, martyred and pogrommed.

The tale of humanity's ability to question is what is at stake here. This is the tale of all those through history who have said, "Now, wait a second... Could it be that your interpretation is incorrect?" It is the tale of all those inchoate scientists (even before the term) who looked at the empirical world and said, "Man, this does NOT jive with what the priests are telling us."

So, on topic alone, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. How about content, style, execution? Hecht is deft and witty, though over the course of 700+ pages she clearly has her favorite doubters, and they receive better writing and attention. The last chapter seemed a bit rushed, but then it is always hard to write history about the present... so little time for perspective to mature on what is happening.

This is a good introduction to a pantheon of philosophers through the ages. If you don't add at least 5 names to your list of "People whose writing I must read," then you are either a professor of philosophy already, or not reading very closely.

This book deserves a wider audience in (as Carl Sagan phrased it) this "demon haunted world." Hecht does her part to keep the flame of reason flickering, no doubt about it.
Profile Image for Todd.
13 reviews3 followers
July 4, 2008
Here's a little confession: I'm a doubter. I always have been. And given my very conservative Mormon family and the even more conservative Mormon community I live in, doubt is frowned upon. More than that, it's considered a serious character flaw--something to be ashamed of, purged, and overcome as quickly as possible. Doubt: A History provides an overview of some of the world's most prominent doubters--Socrates, Thomas Jefferson, even Jesus--and describes the crucial roles they played in history. This book taught me that there is a rich tradition of doubt that goes back thousands of years, that doubters have made remarkable contributions to history, and that even thought I've been programmed to be ashamed of my doubt, I'm actually in some really excellent company. Jennifer Michael Hecht is a competent historian and an excellent writer, and her tour of doubt is an excellent read.
Profile Image for Bob.
101 reviews11 followers
July 30, 2008
An absorbing history of healthy skepticism through the ages.

Personally, I've always joked that Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" could be "I doubt, therefore I may not be." In reading this book, I realize "I think, therefore something thinks, but it's not necessarily me." Which can ironically lead one to a non-dogmatic spirituality. As an agnostic, I find the claimed certainties of both religion and science to be irksome. As Hecht has in her book (it may be a quote from someone else), the real enemy of the theist is not the atheist, but the agnostic. I'm willing to accept evidence based on experiment, but I'm always willing to allow the evidence may change in response to a different experiment. Those who are certain because they've heard the voice of God or because they have obtained a diploma I find insufferable. These are the kind of thoughts reading this book stirred up.
Profile Image for Dan Graser.
Author 4 books102 followers
May 2, 2020
Jennifer Hecht's grand work on the history of doubt is an impressive tome of 600 pages, taking you - chronologically and internationally - right up to 2002. The notion of history being written by the winners is one which certainly applies to large swaths of event-narrative; the history of intellectual thought is one where history is frequently written by the losers (though generations later) since during their day they were likely at least shunned and most often fatally persecuted given the perceived ramifications of their output. The thinkers discussed throughout this immense work are not linked by any modern conception of atheism or agnosticism, in fact many are believers of varying degrees, rather they are united by a system of thought that allowed them to see, more clearly than their contemporaries, the faults in the assertions made by the superstitious and credulous of their time.

As this is a work of history, not philosophy, those looking for a thorough analysis of the larger philosophical works of these authors should look to recent philosophical histories of Grayling and Russell. I found Hecht to be perceptive and honest in her appraisals of their work, however it is all appropriately summative and expository, not exhaustive.

Given the scope and size of the material covered, this book does lend itself to many modes of reading, either choosing to focus on several individual periods or figures, or choosing to focus on the religions in which they were operating. However, as the entire point of this work is that this mode of thinking was universal - from the Carvakas in ancient India to the founders of Jainism, early Greek thought from the schools of Epicurus, Democritus, Diogenes and Epictetus, through the "Dark Ages," Enlightenment, founding fathers of the US and the radical societal changes of the 20th Century - I encourage you to read straight through from the beginning. The connections Hecht draws are never tenuous and she is at all times an erudite and interesting guide.
Profile Image for Arrianne.
21 reviews2 followers
December 29, 2008
I have nearly reached the end and I know I will be starting again when I finish. I enjoy Jennifer's writing style very much. It feels to me like we're two friends walking though a museum and she's giving me the guided tour of my life. She speaks to me in a conversational tone opening up my mind to the secret history of thought. I'm relishing in the choice bits she chooses to quote, like handpicked produce from the grower. She hasn't grabbed the bag of discount apples from a supermarket like so many authors do. I think I've grown up a bit and feel the discussion of ideas and their context is much more interesting than a debate on who is right.

I will be hunting down and devouring more of her books.

As far as her "Scale of Doubt" quiz in the introduction, I must be a true agnostic. I answered "I don't know" to all the questions but two.

I would recommend this book to anyone, even the devoutly religious (and having formerly been of that persuasion, I do understand). Of the many arguments for and against the ideas surrounding the concept of God, I felt they where all treated fairly and objectively.
Profile Image for April Hamilton.
Author 12 books16 followers
March 23, 2009
This is a hefty, dense tome. There's a lot of quality analysis, history and argument here, but the problem with a book like this is that it's a 'preaching to the choir' sort of exercise.

People who are already somewhat doubtful of established cultural institutions will be nodding in agreement and amusement all the way through, and will likely already be familiar with much of the historical and philosophical background the book provides, but those who have a more reverent attitude toward those institutions will not be swayed by anything here.

It isn't that I think the book sets out to change hearts and minds, but fails; rather, I think it's a book without much of a point or mission when taken in the context of the people most likely to read it in the first place. By the end I felt I'd learned many interesting factoids and details about the historical figures mentioned, and had gained a little bit more insight into their respective cultures, but that's about all.
Profile Image for Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly.
755 reviews339 followers
January 9, 2022
One of the sacred cows of modern times is Faith. When a person is described as a “man of faith” it would ordinarily give the impression that that person has been bestowed the highest compliment ever and enjoys all the possible human virtues there are.

But a contrarian view makes that person somewhat mentally ill, with “Faith” being considered as a delusion, a hindrance to progress and a source of many evils. This perception is not entirely without merit.

Look at the tragedy of present day Afghanistan. This is a country ruled now by men of deep and abiding Faith: the Taliban. They are people who are willing to lay down their lives for their belief. But think, if by some magic, you could remove their Faith and substitute it with Doubt so that thereafter they’d start to think and ask themselves questions like: “What if Allah did not really ask our women to be covered like that?”; “What if it is really not good to prohibit our women from going to universities or from getting the education they want?”; “What if it is actually stupid to prevent them from going out, dressed the way they like, without any male companion?”; “What if Muhammad was not really God’s messenger and was in fact just an ordinary, illiterate merchant with some psychological issues?”; “What if the Koran is not really a divine decree but just a plain, ancient literature?”; “What if God doesn’t really exists, or at least the God we conceived him to be?” Plant these seeds of doubt upon their hearts and we might see Afghanistan transformed into a much better place, at least for the Afghan women.

I don’t interact much with Muslims, but within Christian circles I also see a lot of harm Faith does to people. Let me cite examples that immediately comes to mind.

Someone I know had clearly been scammed by her male acquiantance by several thousands of pesos. There was reason, and enough evidence, to make the latter pay for his crime. But the former decided to just let it pass, saying: “Ipapasa-Diyos ko na lang ‘yan” (I will just leave that to God). This attitude is faith-based: she believes in God, that God sees everything, will somehow make he who has sinned against her pay for it one way or the other, and that by doing so, by being “forgiving”, she also earns some treasures in heaven which neither rust nor moth consumes. But what actually usually happens? The scammer is emboldened by the experience of getting away with what he had done and repeats the same by victimizing others.

With Doubt instead of Faith, she would surely have acted differently as she would see for herself that the only semblance of justice she could have would not be in an imaginary heaven but in the here and now, under the laws of men. She would have strived to put him in jail or, at the very least, recover her money. She would have never reconciled with the fact that her money had been lost forever under just a consoling thought that she hungers for justice and therefore is one of the blessed ones.

I see a lot of corrupt politicians and I hear priests harangue them (without naming them) in sermons during mass saying that what they steal they cannot bring with them when they die, hinting of eternal damnation in the afterlife. These politicians, who are men of Faith too, won’t be discouraged by the threat of divine retribution however because they too believe in the Divine Mercy, so that with frequent confessions and taking of the body of their Lord, after they’ve distributed their wealth to their children making them set for life, and giving some contributions to charity here and there and building of some chapels, they’d be forgiven not only by god but even by the people they’ve stolen from.

Present the hard fact of global warming and the apocalypse it threatens to bring to a believer and I bet you a peso that all he would do, with a smug smile on his face, is to quote some obscure passages in the Book of Revelations showing that what is to come had long been foretold by his holy book and therefore his religion is the true religion and there is nothing for him to be really worried about because the salvation of the righteous like him had also been assured in that same holy book. Belief trumping science and superstitions substituting for facts.

At the very least, Faith makes a lot of people act silly. We have greetings at facebook of the dead “in heaven” (the dead are always in heaven at Facebook); people saying “amen’ to posts made by other “believers” saying that if you reply “amen” you’ll receive money or some other blessings the next day; Jesus Christ telling you to type that you love him as a test of faith; prayers asking God to cure ALL sick people; or to make a typhoon veer away and destroy other places instead (as if God creates typhoons, give them a tentative route, and if people pray enough, he’d change the typhoons’ itinerary, like god is some kind of a bored child playing with his toys).

But this is not really the theme of this book. This thick volume just sort of showcases the great doubters of history, from ancient times to the more recent era. Many of them, surprisingly, I’ve “met” for the first time reading it. Indeed, before, I thought there could not possibly be such doubters or skeptics among the Muslims, having been aware of the punishment of apostasy in their religion (death) and the fanaticism they display in matters of faith (draw a cartoon figure of the prophet Muhammad and you could lose your head). But I was wrong. They have had Al-Rawandi who died around year 860 after having rejected almost every aspect of Islam. He doubted that the Koran was miraculously beautiful and said that the prophets had tricked the believers on purpose and that Muhammad himself showed the weakness of religion when he criticized Judaism and Christianity. Another was Al-Razi who lived about the same time (854-925). He had wondered what kind of God would use prophets instead of just telling everyone what they need to know. Ibn Warraq champions popular modern Muslim doubt which tends to be ethical: the treatment of Muslim women and non-Muslims, the issue of democracy and the separation of church and state.

Oh, there are a lot of doubters here. Even among poets we can find great men of doubt like Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) who, musing on God, and paraphrasing d’Holbach’s French, had rhetorically asked:

“If he (God) is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? If he is immovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his decrees? If he has spoken, why is the universe not convinced?”

Similar, but much older, questions were raised during the time of ancient Greece by the stoic philosopher Epicurus which, to this very day, remain unanswered:

“Is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”

The American President Thomas Jefferson, admitted that he is Epicurean, and once wrote a friend: “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than of blindfold fear….If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others it will procure for you.”

Surrendering reason to dogma is self-demeaning, whether there is a God who created you or that it is you/us who created God. For if the former, you misuse the faculty that god gave you, and if the latter, you just further add a layer of lies to the fiction you yourself had created.
Profile Image for Moh. Nasiri.
293 reviews96 followers
April 13, 2020
Don’t take every fact at face value – instead maintain an impulse for doubt.
تاریخچه تردید

When you were a kid did your parents ever tell you not to believe everything you see on TV? Well the same goes for all information, regardless of the authority that disseminates it. In order to form your own opinions it’s essential to allow doubt and skepticism a place at the table. Just remember not to fall into despair when nothing seems to add up, because you’re not alone.

What connects ancient philosophers like Socrates and Confucius with modern scientists like Einstein? They’re great thinkers, of course, but there is something more, something not mentioned as often as their original ideas and concepts. That something is doubt.

Throughout history, doubt and doubters have played a crucial role in the development of what we now know as the modern world. This doubt has been the spark for scientific innovation, a challenge to entrenched authorities, and the foundation for new religions. It’s been the source of despair and reassuring thought alike.

Profile Image for Gary  Beauregard Bottomley.
979 reviews580 followers
January 26, 2015
When one has certainty, there is no more room for further knowledge or understanding. Science and Reason never prove, at the most they can just show things to be less false than other things. There is a long history of people who haven't been certain and their story makes for a much more interesting revealing of human history than the ones who pretend to have no doubt.

There are two recurring characters in this marvelous book about doubters throughout history, the Stoic, Cicero and his "On the Nature of the Gods", and the Epicurean, Lucretius, and his "On the Nature of Things". Both get major play in this book, firstly when they are introduced and secondly they keep popping up through the rest of the story because their influence with latter sages has been immense.

Survey of philosophy books with their chronological presentation can often be dull since they lack a narrative to tie the story together. This book gives that necessary narrative and gives the listener a thread to understand the connections while telling a good story that includes snippets of world history, religion and summaries of what great doubters thought throughout the ages.

The author gives enough of the major points and sometimes long quotations from the primary sources to make the book or person under consideration come alive and make the listener feel as if he understands the person who wrote it. For example, I now realize why I enjoy the book of Ecclesiastics so much more than any of the other books in the Bible (it's mostly a Epicurean type polemic on the meaning of life). Her considered amount of time she spends quoting Marcus Aurelius is well worth it for the listener. I've never found anyone who I tend to agree more with and would strongly recommend his "Meditations" which is available at audible, but it might not be necessary to read it if you listen to this book instead.

The other thing to like about this book: she does not ignore the East at all. She gives them equal weight to the West throughout the text. Eastern Religions are fully explored since there is a much richer tradition of not being certain, "the more you doubt, the more you understand" would be a typical Eastern religion answer to the refutation of the certainty found in revealed religions.

Overall, this book gives a great survey of doubt throughout the ages, with many synopsizes of great thinkers, and all within an overriding narrative tying all the pieces together. I would recommend this book for anyone who does not like to "pretend to know things that they do not know", and wants to understand the firm foundation that entails.
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
431 reviews1,374 followers
October 1, 2017
A masterful work, both in scope and execution. Jennifer Michael Hecht traces the development of doubt, both within religion and without religion, from the ancient Greeks and Indian Charvaka (an ancient materialistic, non-theistic response to Hinduism I'd never even heard of) to Paine, Jefferson and the current crop of modern skeptics and atheists. Along the way, she demonstrates the importance of doubt in challenging assumptions, sparking reflection, and driving thought forward. Hecht is a poet and philosopher, and crafts a beautifully written look at the progression of questioning throughout time and across geography. With each prominent figure and movement, we learn which previous thinkers influenced the discussion, which ideas were challenged, and how the world was changed as a result. Doubt is widely defined, and even religious figures play important roles.

It's as ambitious as you'd imagine, detailing figures as diverse as Democritus, Epicurus, Job, Koheleth, the Buddha, Confucius, Wang Ch'ung, Cicero, Pliny the Elder, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius, Sextus Empiricus, Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Hypatia, Ibn al-Rawandi, Abu Bakr al-Razi, Maimonides, Pomponazzi, Montaigne, Rabelais, Voltaire, Giordano Bruno, Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Pierre Bayle, Thomas Hobbes, Edward Gibbon, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Harriet Martineau, Susan B. Anthony, Elixabeth Cady Stanton, Emily Dickinson, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, Mark Twain, and Bertrand Russell.

That's only a smattering of the personalities involved in this wide-ranging narrative that rings in at 494 densely-packed pages. I'll admit - I put off completing this for many years after hearing Hecht lecture on her (then new) book well over a decade ago. I was delighted to see it available as an unabridged audio book (over 24 hours in length), which was a great format. I plan to return to this book often as a reference.
Profile Image for Simo Ibourki.
120 reviews54 followers
September 3, 2016

I loved the quotes and book passages, I loved how Mrs Hecht integrated in her book not only atheistic and agnostic doubt (Epicurus, Cicero, Schopenhauer, ...) but also religious doubts (Job, Ecclesiastes, Buddha, Jesus, Jews, ...), I also loved her coverage of doubt in a lot of cultures (eastern world, muslim and jewish world, ...) other than the highly-talked about western philosophy.

A highly recommended book for beginners in the field of philosophy.

Profile Image for Paul  Perry.
376 reviews206 followers
June 21, 2016
Hecht's examination of how doubt has always lived alongside faith since the earliest times is a fascinating work of scholarship. She takes us from the beginnings of philosophy which grew alongside the earliest recorded organised religions, where the act of questioning and doubting was fundamental to the process of philosophy. This unfaith runs like a bright silver thread through history, although many times religion has sought to obscure the fact and expunge it from the records, or recast the proponents of doubt in a way that portrays them as faithful.

She takes us forward from the Greeks and through Rome, taking in the Jewish tradition - both ancient and medieval - to Gnosticism and throughout the growth of Christianity, branching on the way to bring in the beliefs of Asia and how they had approaches that differed but often embraced doubt far ore strongly than the tradition in the West.

She shows us how the explosion of unbelief that was the Enlightenment was built partly on this questioning, and the gradual acceptance that a lack of faith was not only correct and acceptable amongst the intellectual elite but also held no dangers for the masses. Finally, she shows how the meeting of Western Enlightenment and Eastern enlightenment in the 19th and 20th centuries brought yet more strength to those who doubt, and recaps how the great thinkers and writers who have pushed against or broken outside of the bounds of religion have built upon each other, and managed to find the kernels of wisdom in earlier thinkers time and again, despite the best efforts to obscure or marginalise those dangerous thought.

A wonderful book which has given me far too many new threads to chase down and consume.
Profile Image for Kevin Mchargue.
13 reviews
November 22, 2013
This broad but meticulous history of ideas helps to correct two widespread errors: the belief among current nonbelievers that previous generations all accepted religion uncritically, and the belief among current believers that atheism is some new, decadent development. The reality is that from the moment the first religious belief existed, the first doubt existed, both in communities and within each individual. People have always struggled with problems of good and evil, sin and grace, sense and transcendence. As the author documents, these struggles have produced some of the most acute, profound and powerful ideas in human history.
Profile Image for Julia.
589 reviews
May 28, 2009
This book changed my life. I literally took a month to read, highlight, take notes--Hecht is an excellent scholar, and she has done an amazing job of honoring the history of those who QUESTION. She explains that she wanted people to know that doubt has its own existence, not just in response to belief but as a quest for truths that may never be found. Albert Einstein once said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning"--and that's her central point. The subtitle of the book is revealing: "The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson."

I found it powerful that she doesn't shy away from the force of doubt even WITHIN religious structures. Her description of St. Augustine's doubt is wrenching in his utter distress. And I bought the Thomas Jefferson Bible after reading this book, since he held dear the TEACHINGS of Jesus, but removed all the supernatural elements.

What Hecht gave ME is best expressed in the last paragraph of the book (I have it highlighted with 2 stars). "The only thing such doubters really need, that believers have, is a sense that people like themselves have always been around, that they are part of a grand history. For its longevity, its productivity, its pluck, its warmth, its service to friend and foe, and its sometimes ruthless commitment to demonstrative truth, I give the palm to the story of doubt."

I'd give it TEN stars if allowed.
Profile Image for Paul Fidalgo.
Author 2 books29 followers
February 16, 2009
A good read, but more importantly, a really solid education; Not simply in terms of the history of doubters, but the history of, well, thought. Of philosophy. For someone who didn't quite get the education he might have liked, this book is a great tour through different ways of thinking about the world, freed from the gauze and blur of supernaturalism.
8 reviews1 follower
August 15, 2008
I have no words to describe the brilliance and execution here. If the title causes even the least spark of interest for you, read this book. I'm sure this will be one of the most well-loved books on my shelves for the rest of my life.
Profile Image for Nik.
106 reviews8 followers
August 15, 2014
What a wonderful experience reading this book. Its like looking back at the history of doubt and realizing that I belong to a culture that is rich and meaningful and deeply intertwined to the culture of belief. This quote from the book summarizes my experience reading it and helps to clarify that I am simply pondering on the shoulders of doubting giants who have come before me.

“Theistic religions all have in them an amazing human ability: belief. Belief is one of the best human muscles; it can be very good. The religions are all beautiful and horrible, filled with feasts, sacrifices, miracles, wars, songs, lamentations, stained glass, and intense communal joy: everyone kneeling, everyone rocking, everyone silent, everyone nose to the floor. The religions have also been the energy behind much generosity, compassion, and bravery. The story of doubt has all this, too. It also has a relationship to truth that is rigorous, sober, and when necessary, resigned – and it prizes this rigorous approach to truth above the delights of belief. Doubt has its own version of comforts and challenges. From doubt’s beginnings, it has advised that if you create your own desires and model them after what you actually experience, you can be happy… Devote yourself to wisdom, self-knowledge, friends, family, and give some attention to community, money, politics, and pleasure. Know that none of it brings happiness all that consistently. It’s best to stay agile, to keep an open mind. Anyway, if you live long enough, you will likely find yourself believing something that you’d never believe today, or disbelieving. In a funny way the one thing you can really count on is doubt. Expect change, accept death, enjoy life. As Marcus Aurelius explained ‘The brains that got you through the troubles you have had so far will get you through any troubles yet to come”
Profile Image for Steve.
160 reviews7 followers
January 2, 2022
I loved this history of great doubters and their ideas (and lives). Some of these doubters I knew; others were new to me. Even people of faith would enjoy this lively history of ideas.
72 reviews13 followers
November 29, 2010
Only a couple of chapters in so far, and I can already see that Ms. Hecht is a lively but carefully original thinker. Just a couple of examples:

- She characterizes the work of the Cynics, Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics as some of the first self-help books in the West. I find this notion appealing, as it shows that supposedly pie-in-the-sky philosophy is actually deeply relevant to how we live, while simultaneously ennobling the much-maligned desire of human beings to read self-help books.

- By placing the Hannukah story in its historical, social, and political context, she demonstrates that, less than being a triumph of the Jews over their pagan oppressors, the story is at least partly that of reactionary fundamentalists oppressing freedom of thought and among secular Jews, complete with the slaughter and forcible circumcision by Jews by other Jews. (Secular Jews who choose to celebrate the holiday, Hecht wryly notes, they may wish to "let one candle burn for the other side.")

I can't wait to read more!
Profile Image for Nancy.
8 reviews1 follower
November 20, 2009
I have never learned so much from ONE book.

Jennifer Michael Hecht'a comprehension of history and philosophy is staggering. The "doubt" of which she speaks is the history of the doubting of God and gods in human thought and society. She goes from the ancient Greeks like Epicurus to Job to Lucretius to Thomas Jefferson to George Carlin and everyone else in between. Her wit and wisdom are evident on every page. I actually high-lighted this book as I read it. If you are a believer, read it. It will challenge and shake you (hopefully). If you are a disbeliever, read it. You will learn that you are not alone, and that many wise men and women -- brave and honest -- have preceded you.

In this book, I found my favorite Zen maxim that I say on a regular basis: "GREAT DOUBT, GREAT AWAKENING. LITTLE DOUBT: LITTLE AWAKENING. NO DOUBT: NO AWAKENING"

Profile Image for SHEREEN.
140 reviews6 followers
April 24, 2017
وأخيراً إنتهت رحلتي مع تاريخ الشك وأبطاله ، والتي إمتدت نحو ستة وعشرين قرناً ، من شيشرون إلى شوبنهاور ، من فاني رايت إلى هوبر هاريسون ، من سقراط إلى فتجنشتاين . رحلة طويلة ومُرهقة جداً . رحلة بدأت فيها وأنا لاأدرية عقلاً وقلباً وأنتهيت منها وأنا لاأدرية عقلاً وقلباً ، لاأدرية وفاصلة ، لست مُلحدة ونقطة .
فهناااااك فرق
وسأقتبس كلام أعجبني جداً من دارو لُأنهي به كلامي :
لماذا أنا لا أدري ؟
اللاأدري شكاك ، تنطبق الكلمة عموماً على أولئك الناس الذين يتشككون في حقيقة العقائد الدينوية ، كل إمرؤ لاأدري في ما يخص المعتقدات أو العقائد التي لا يقبل بها . الكاثوليك لاأدريون بالنسبة إلى العقائد البروتستنتية ، والبروتستنت لاأدريون بالنسبة الى العقائد الكاثوليكية . كل من يفكر لاأدري بصدد شأن ما ، وإلا فعليه أن يؤمن بأنه يمتلك المعرفة كلها ، والمكان الصحيح لمثل هذا الشخص هو مستشفى المجانين .
Profile Image for Sammi Murphy.
40 reviews1 follower
March 24, 2009
Definitely enjoying.. a lot!

So far the chapter on Buddhism has given me the most to think about. Overall this book has morphed my thinking a little into... why can't pieces of doubt come together? I think doubt can shape the way we practice whatever it is we believe. Perhaps what formed from doubt in the Greek gods led to athiesm, but the nontheistic philosophies include meditation and oneness of self and connection with nature and things we could all experience no matter what God or religion we believe in. I think for it seems to be giving a whole new meaning to "open-mindedness".
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
December 15, 2017
This was good, but I was annoyed at times because it seemed more like a lit review and just a catalogue of people and ideas as opposed to an engaging analysis. I think Karen Armstrong's work is a much more interesting walk through the same history. Armstrong focuses on the religious angle, but she basically comes out the same as Hecht, which is that belief and doubt used to co-exist more comfortably together. I guess I was expecting a bit more from this book --like maybe more of a dialogue with Armstrong who is cited at length in here--and it fell short of expectations.
Profile Image for Book Shark.
744 reviews137 followers
February 23, 2012
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Michael Hecht

“Doubt: A History" is about the history of religious doubt, from all over the world, and from all recorded history. This ambitious and comprehensive book takes us up close and personal with those who have grappled with the ultimate questions of life and found possible answers contrary to traditional faith. Jennifer Hecht provides freethinkers with a reference-quality book that captures the essence of doubt. This is an excellent and commendable book that I will cherish for years to come because it succeeds at providing a broad and insightful coverage of the history of doubt. This 576-page book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Whatever Happened to Zeus and Hera?, 600 BCE–1CE, Greek Doubt 2. Smacking the Temple, 600 BCE-1 CE, Doubt and the Ancient Jews3. What the Buddha Saw, 600 BCE–1 CE, Ancient Doubt in Asia, 4. When in Rome in Doubt, 50 BCE-200 CE, Empire of Reason 5. Christian Doubt, Zen, Elisha, and Hypatia, 1-800 CE, Late Classical Mix 6. Medieval Doubt Loops-the-Loop, 800-1400, Muslims to Jews to Christians 7. The Printing Press and the Age of Martyrs, 1400-1600, Renaissance and Inquisition 8. Sunspots and White House Doubters, 1600-1800, Revolutions in the Authority of Reason 9. Doubt’s Bid for a Better World, 1800-1900, and Freethinking in the Age of Science and Reform 10. Principles of Uncertainty, 1900-.

1. Fascinating topic in the master hands of an author who cared.
2. As well-researched a book as you will find.
3. Accessible prose.
4. This is a very comprehensive and thorough book. The author meticulously covers a broad history of doubters and periods. Commendable effort for sure.
5. Fair and even-handed. The author really treats the subject with utmost care and respect. I trust her assessment based on the overall treatment of this topic.
6. A look at the worldview of many of the doubters within the context of the time in which they lived in.
7. I like how the author explains how doubters were influenced by the works of their predecessors. Also, the particular contributions of each doubter. In some cases, some of the doubters borrow literary works and add their own particular flare.
8. The impact of the Greeks to the history of the world even to this day is really remarkable. Aristotle just amazes me.
9. The author does a great job of giving us the background of the most important terms, such as agnosticism, skepticism, etc…
10. A fascinating look at Job and Ecclesiastes.
11. The history of religious beliefs. The author masterfully provides the history of doubt within all the major religions including those from the Far East.
12. The relation between women and religion.
13. A look at some of the religious practices and what they represent.
14. Wisdom from some of the greatest minds ever. Great stuff!
15. The evolution of religious movements.
16. The fascinating look at the afterlife, souls, infinity…
17. An interesting look at “Atheistic” religions.
18. Gods and Goddesses.
19. So many great doubters…Epicurus seems to stand out.
20. Great philosophy throughout book. You get the viewpoints from so many great minds.
21. Jewish history is always fascinating.
22. The impact of Paul to Christianity can never be underestimated.
23. The terrible story of Hypatia.
24. Martyrs of the cause...Bruno, Vanini
25. The Copernican heliocentric system.
26. The travels of the Jesuits.
27. Galileo never gets old.
28. So many perspectives of doubt..."Bayle upheld Montaigne's that religious claims are not confirmed by any inner knowledge, but instead were fed to us in our childhoods".
29. Hume masterfully debunks popular arguments for gods.
30. Franklin, Paine, Jefferson, and Adams highlight the founding doubters.
31. The women of doubt: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emma Goldman, Anne Newport Royall, Harriet Taylor, Harriet Martineau, Frances Wright, Ernestine Rose, Susan B. Anthony...
32. The funniest statement in the history of doubt, belongs to...
33. The icon of biology, Darwin always makes his presence felt. His undeniable contribution to doubt. Darwinism.
34. Great quotes, "If by any possibility the existence of a power superior to, and independent of, nature shall be demonstrated, there will be time enough to kneel. Until then let us stand erect." Robert Ingersoll.
35. Doubt and the antislavery movement.
36. Doubt in the twentieth century included doubting authority and custom.
37. I really enjoyed the section on secular nations.
38. I also loved the section on Americana doubters. Thomas Edison was truly "enlightening".
39. The "Monkey Trial" enduring impact to doubt.
40. An excellent chapter titled, "Conclusion" that does a wonderful job of summarizing the book.
41. Links to notes worked great on Kindle version.
42. Comprehensive bibliography.
1. Requires an investment of time. The book can be exhaustive at times but ultimately it rewards you with so much history.
2. Because of my scientific/engineering background I’m always wanting for charts and this book is no different. I would have liked to have seen a timeline chart covering the most influential doubters.
3. Repetitive at times.

In summary, this is reference-quality book regarding the history of doubt. The author must be commended for such an achievement. This book covers so much and does it quite well. To use perhaps a weak baseball analogy, there are two well know ways for a baseball player to make the hall-of-fame: produce spectacular numbers in a few years like Sandy Koufax or accumulate consistent numbers over a productive long career ala Carl Yastrzemski. I feel this book is the latter, a consistent hit of information. I highly recommend it!

Further recommendations: "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby, “Man Made God” by Barbara G. Walker, "People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn, "American Fascists" by Chris Hedges, and "The Conservative Assault on the Constitution" by Erwin Chemerinsky.
Profile Image for Mahdi.
24 reviews5 followers
April 10, 2020
"من خلاصه کتاب رو توی بلینکیست گوش کردم"
یک سری از بحث‌ها که خیلی لذت میبرم ازشون اونایی هستند که یه مفهوم خیلی روزمره رو شروع میکنند به کاوییدن مثل نفرت یا صبر یا اراده و یا مثل این کتاب تردید و شک
به نظر کتاب فوق‌العاده‌ای میاد، رفرنس‌های جالبی به تردیدهای مهم تاریخ داره و بحث روی رابطه تردید و دین، تردید و علم
آخر هم مشکلات و عواقب تردید رو کمی باز کرد و یه بحث کوتاهی روی اون داشت.
Profile Image for Peter Thomason.
8 reviews4 followers
July 15, 2017
This is a remarkable book and Jennifer Hecht is quite a scholar. In the canon of the History of Ideas I would rank it with The Art of Memory by Frances Yates, another wonderful scholar. Reading both of these studies was like taking a 15-week graduate course so I took my time, read slowly, and used my TASIIRR technique: Take notes; Ask questions; Skim first; Impress, associate, repeat; Introduce to others; Read aloud; Read on paper, for maximum retention.

Hecht takes the approach in this survey of the known history of doubt of attempting to link lots of thinkers over the ages into a more or less continuous chain that represents an alternative intellectual history worthy of study and consideration in its own right. Whether you are a doubter or a believer this is well worth the time and effort it will take to give this book its due.
Profile Image for Charlene.
875 reviews504 followers
March 30, 2017
For the first 1/3 of this book, Hecht kept referring to life as a happy accident. She obviously subscribes heavily to Dawkins "life is an accident" brand of atheism. Dawkins himself wrote about how there doesn't need to be a watchmaker in the clockwork universe; and yet, he doesn't seem to understand that if he admits that the emergence of life was actually likely on Earth, and not a miraculous accident, it doesn't imply a god. Considering the conditions when our galaxy formed, when our solar system, formed, where our planet lies in relation to our sun, the creation of our moon, and so on, it's not surprising that life arose. It's likely life has arisen on other planets, whether now or in the past. The universe is vast and old. It is a creationist mindset to suppose that the first cells miraculously and accidentally appeared. It's so frustrating to listen to that sort of language from educated people-- people fighting creationists no less. That brand of atheism is so 1970s.

We now know more about thermodynamics. We know how the hot, fast moving energy has traveled through space time, making form after form. Researchers are continually mapping out more and more of that picture, allowing them to see how the first stars (so inefficient because they couldn't even use the CNO cycle to make elements) gave rise to more efficient stars that, in turn, gave rise to planets, and so on. Life is something to marvel at, for certain. However, it's not a magical event -- e.g. (creationist) God put humans on earth fully formed because they did not evolve from apes or microbes or (Dawkins brand of atheism) some unforeseen and miraculous accident. There are patterns at work, created by the laws of physics, which gave rise to a volcanic planet, which gave rise to hydrothermal vents, which gave rise to rocky protocells, which gave rise to cells with fatty acid membranes, which gave rise to the more complex plants and animals we see today. It's just a matter of figuring out the pieces to the puzzle. Dawkins and Hecht make the same mistake creationists do. If they can't answer why we are here, they make up a story about miracles. A miraculous superhero in the sky who put us here or a miraculous accident. No thanks to both. I just want science. You can keep your miracles.

The rest of the book was absolutely outstanding. What a concept! I wish I had come up with the idea to write about the history of doubt. It makes me want to give the book 5 stars despite the constant rhetoric about our accidental existence. But I just cannot bring myself to do that. I highly recommend this book but I recommend that you take her brand of "miraculous accident atheism" with a grain of salt.
Profile Image for Alimanzoor.
63 reviews1 follower
February 1, 2022
I read somewhere that Hecht wanted to title this book as “A History of Atheism” which the publisher didn’t want to accept – in fact, the publisher was right, otherwise the book would have been labeled as the book of atheists. Hecht’s scholarly work with her captivating prose gives a beautiful perspective on doubt.

Hecht’s analysis reaffirms that doubt has been one of the central forces to the positive effects of humanity, innovations, and the intellectual discovery we enjoy today. Throughout history doubters played critical roles in challenging the status quo with regards to religion, culture, and politics. She describes the feud between belief and denial form ancient to our modern times with impressive citations. Her citations of various attacks exercised by religious leaders and political elites on doubters are sufficient evidence that doubters weren’t given enough places in history while they were a big part of it.

She further explains that doubters aren’t always disbelievers; in fact, there are religious-doubters who challenge beliefs because of their deep involvement in religion. They can scrutinize religions critically while still preserving their faith. She says these doubters (believers & non-believers) influenced religions to get new shapes, in some cases, their involvement or influences even formed new religions.

She confirms doubt and science have continually gone hand in hand throughout history because doubters confronted blind belief and developed different methods with critical questioning, empirical analysis, and rational arguments to believe something. With detailed description of numerous positive influences of doubters, the book didn’t fail to present the negative impacts doubters created in our societies.

Hecht’s efforts to glue doubt as a major component of history is a point to note. She believes, for our history to be perfect, we need to include doubters and their contributions - without them the history is not perfect.

It’s a good read for all, the doubters and the believers alike, as the book has got sufficient objective and inclusive arguments around religions, sciences etc.
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