This excellent book was written by Simon Winchester, one of the best of the current non-fiction writers. The story involves an AMAZING personality, Dr. Joseph Needham, who I had never heard of before reading this book. His life is so full of accomplishments that it is hard to believe. It is all true. The guy was a modern day Leonardo Da Vinci.
(1.) The civilization of ancient China produced thousands of complex inventions and made thousands of scholarly discoveries long before Mediterranean-European civilizations. A great many of these were discovered, discussed and verified by Joseph Needham - and detailed in the book.
(2.) China, for some still unknown reason, stopped developing a few hundred years ago. They stopped inventing, discovering, learning, and so forth. Dr. Needham spent most of his life trying to figure out what happened; what caused Chinese societies development to abruptly halt. He died before finding an answer.
A truly great read for anyone interested in what makes China, China.