Written by a renowned Oxford historian, this fascinating volume presents a global history of truth. Sharp and authoritative, Truth manages to touch every period of human experience; it leaps from truth-telling technologies of "primitive" societies to the private mental worlds of great philosophers; from spiritualism to science and from New York to New Guinea. In clear, lucid prose, this little book takes on an enormous subject and makes it understandable to anyone.
An idiosyncratic exploration of "the quest for language that can match reality," Oxford historian Fern ndez-Armesto's essay is a highly personal stroll through human history and various cultures' notions of truth. Fern ndez-Armesto (Millennium, etc.) examines four distinct approaches to truth--"the truth you feel," "the truth you are told," "the truth of reason" and sense perception--in separate chapters. His goal, he reveals in a preface, is to rescue discussions about truth from the polarizing dead-ends of absolutism and relativism, "to reassure readers that the search for truth is still on and leave relativists and fundamentalists where they belong--on the margins of history." His book is far too anecdotal and unsystematic to achieve that stated goal, but it nevertheless makes for provocative, often illuminating reading, particularly since he includes Chinese, Indian, Polynesian and other traditions in his excavation of how different cultures in different times apprehended the idea of truth. Writing with an interdisciplinarian's lack of, well, discipline, he stumbles badly on such topics as pragmatism, quantum mechanics, chaos theory and G del's Incompleteness Theorem, repeating or even adding to common misperceptions, rather than dispelling them. Yet he also writes with the confidence and clarity--neither of which is to be confused with accuracy or depth--of a top-notch lecturer. In the end, what he has to say about how language cannot be conceived as separate from the world it tries to describe is not just an interesting philosophical comment but also a moving perspective on what happens whenever one person speaks to another.