In this account, cultural historian Peter Burke explores the wide-ranging successes of polymaths and shows how their rise matched a rapid growth of knowledge in the age of the invention of printing, the discovery of the New World and the Scientific Revolution.
In his coda to The Polymath, [Burke] worries that in our Internet age, when at our fingertips we find so much scannable knowledge, we are losing the capacity to dig deep and become truly absorbed in a variety of subjects. His survey of polymaths is a reminder of the importance of doing just that.
The Polymath is vulnerable to the same charge that polymaths themselves have faced for centuries, that its breadth outstrips its depth. Mr. Burke does not slow down for stories about his hundreds of characters or explore their ideas in any detail. There just isn’t time, with all the ground he covers. As a reference work, however, it is an admirable mixture of industry and erudition.