Cambridge Rivers


Educational Books


Encouraged by the reception of Letters to Lily ( 2005 ), Alan Macfarlane FBA decided to write a set of letters to her younger sister – Reflections for Rosa. He was then asked by other friends to write short books for their children.  In each he tries to explore some aspect of How We Understand the World based on his experience as an anthropologist and historian at the University of Cambridge. He has tried to put into simple words a lifetime’s learning about discovery, creativity and methods to understand our complex world. The Chinese version of the series is published by San Lian Press (est.1948, SDX Joint Publishing Company - one of the top two respected publishers in China).  Click here to learn more about the author.


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How to Discover the World  Reflections for Rosa by Alan Macfarlane

‘Make things as simple as possible - but not simpler. It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong. Write first; think later’ 

Alan Macfarlane has spent sixty years trying to understand the world. He has studied for two doctorates at Oxford and London and traveled through Nepal, Japan and China. In Reflections for Rosa he tells us what he has found out about asking questions, guessing, testing, assembling evidence, creative writing and the conditions of creativity. The book complements his Letters to Lily.


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On How To Investigate Mysteries  Secrets for Sam by Alan Macfarlane

This book explains the methods used by two of the greatest detectives in history to solve mysteries: Auguste Dupin, Edgar Allen Poe’s detective who solved the problems of the Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter, and Sherlock Holmes, who solved many cases including The Speckled Band and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Alan Macfarlane, a retired Professor of Anthropology, has found the method very useful in approaching the largest questions in anthropology and history, an equivalent in the arts and social sciences to the methodological rules laid down by the French philosopher and mathematician Descartes. 


How Do We Know  Advice for April by Alan Macfarlane

All our knowledge is shaped by world views (paradigms, epistemes, weltanschauung) of which we are seldom aware. These systems of thought change in a dramatic way over time as a result of technological, political and intellectual revolutions. This book analyses the major paradigms in world history since Hunter-Gatherers up to the present. It examines oral, literate, axial, Renaissance, scientific, Enlightenment, evolutionary, modern and post-modern world views. It describes their major features and how the development of writing, printing, industrialism, imperialism and the Internet, among other great changes, have shaped the way we know - epistemology - over the last fifty thousand years. 


How To Understand Each Other  Notes for Nina by Alan Macfarlane

All our knowledge is shaped by world views (paradigms, epistemes, weltanschauung) of which we are seldom aware. These systems of thought change in a dramatic way over time as a result of technological, political and intellectual revolutions. This book analyses the major paradigms in world history since Hunter-Gatherers up to the present. It examines oral, literate, axial, Renaissance, scientific, Enlightenment, evolutionary, modern and post-modern world views. It describes their major features and how the development of writing, printing, industrialism, imperialism and the Internet, among other great changes, have shaped the way we know - epistemology - over the last fifty thousand years


A Modern Education  Advice for Ariston by Alan Macfarlane

British education is designed to teach about society and power, play and performance, the head and the heart, the spirit and character. It is a preparation for a certain kind of ‘modernity.’ This book explains how education can make us modern and the ways in which such an education is different from that of Europe and China. 


The Survival Manual Thoughts for Taras by Alan Macfarlane

We live in a confused and confusing world. Population growth, rapidly changing technologies, large migrations of peoples and ideas are changing everything faster and faster.  This is a brief historical overview of eight of the major problems we face, and some radical ways of thinking about them. These include robots and work, computers and the internet, the increase in life and health, the challenge to democracy, multiculturalism, educational changes, war and peace.