Needham seems to have been eccentric in so many ways - for instance he preferred to eat his toast black because he thought the carbon was good for his digestive system. He thought it mopped up impurities. It's an interesting idea, not without merit- Needham, after all was an eminent scientist - but I think that most people these days would say this was not a good idea due to the carcinogenic chemicals also produced when toast burns.
I am another couple more chapters through now and beginning to envy Needham. Because of his genius he seems always able to get his own way. He manipulates his travels through China to fulfill his curiosity about the place; he establishes his mistress in China, as well as his wife, because he feels he can't live without either of them - and thus, very understandably, attracts the ire of a colleague; and then, after he returns to his suite of rooms at Cambridge, the college's requirement for him to do any teaching his waived so he is free to write his books. But then it is important that he writes his books; because he is the only one able to do so. His aim is to write about the science and civilisation and China. It is a book not aimed at the Sinologists or general public but to educated people who are interested in the history of civilisation as a whole. It will fill an important gap.
The text that most stimulated the writing of the book was one that described the 1088AD technique to find south using a magnetised needle suspended on a piece of silk. This was a full century before a compass was described elsewhere in the world.
Another chapter and in this I have learnt that, in addition to the compass, the Chinese invented the following: various sorts of complicated bridges, wrought iron, the wheebarrow, the fishing reel, the sternport rudder, the umbrella, the set of gimbals (used to keep things like compasses upright at sea), the spinning wheel, the kite, callipers, automated figurines, chain pump irrigation, stirrups, playing cards, fine porcelain, chess, tuned drums, and, maybe most important of all, in the sixth century, perfumed toilet paper that was both soft and strong. It has been in demand ever since.