Doubt: A History : The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation

In this grand sweeping history, Jennifer Michael Hecht celebrates doubt as an engine of creativity and as an alternative to the political and intellectual dangers of certainty. Just as belief has its own history featuring people whose unique expressions of faith have forever changed the world, doubt has a vibrant story and tradition with its own saints, martyrs, and sages.

Hecht blends her wide-ranging historical expertise, passionate admiration of the great doubters, and poet’s sensibility to tell a stimulating story that is part intellectual history and part showcase of ordinary people asking themselves the difficult questions that confront us all. She celebrates the heroes of doubt — people such as Confucius, Socrates, Jesus, Wang Ch’ung, Hypatia, Maimonides, Galileo, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Emily Dickinson, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Margaret Sanger — who drove history forward by challenging the powers and conventional wisdom of their time and heritage.

Hecht views the history of doubt as not only a tradition of challenging accepted religious beliefs, including the existence of God, but also as a progression of attempts to make sense of life, the natural world, and the self, each on their own terms. She shows that the great doubters ponder the same ultimate issues as the great believers: “We live in a meaning-rupture because we are human and the universe is not.” Both doubters and believers have to confront this rupture. Doubt: A History reveals for the first time how the doubters bravely and inventively came up with their own answers to life’s big questions.