Enlightening the World

Enlightening the World

Encyclopédie, the Book That Changed the Course of History

Book - 2005 | 1st Palgrave Macmillan ed.
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In 1777 several of the world's greatest men gathered together to create a book that would champion rationalism, free thinking, and secularism--the Encyclopédie . Such leading minds as Diderot, Rousseau, and Voltaire conceived of a work that would tear down the social order dominated by the Crown and Church, a brave act at a time when heresy could still be punished by death. During the years it took to produce all twenty-seven volumes, the writers faced exile, jail, and censorship. But when they were done, they had created a book that would provide the foundation for the Enlightenment and change the world forever. Novelist and historian Philipp Blom presents the story behind the sixteen-year struggle to create the Encyclopédie , the men who wrote it, the powerful forces that tried to suppress it, and the tremendous impact it had on the world.
Publisher: New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Edition: 1st Palgrave Macmillan ed.
ISBN: 9781403968951
1403968950
Branch Call Number: 034 B653
Characteristics: xxv, 372 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.

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jensenmk
Sep 27, 2016

Though this is a reprint of a work published the year before, there are many glaring examples of haphazard copyediting and indifference to accuracy of detail; thus we read about Diderot’s “home tome of Langres” (172). Diderot is the hero of the volume (it ends with an account of his last days) and all the author’s sympathies are with him; most of the other figures involved in the publication of the Encyclopédie come in for abundant criticism, with the exception of the Chevalier de Jaucourt, the appreciation of whose importance may be said to be one of the themes of Enlightening the World. A sense of the dangerousness of the enterprise of undertaking to write and publish the Encyclopédie is well conveyed, but the forces opposing it remain rather shadowy; none of them are really described. The work is entirely based on secondary works, and is of doubtful reliability because of its impressionistic approach. (This opinionatedness seems quite close to the tone of the articles in the Encyclopédie by the figures described.) The quality of the translations from 18th-century French is often execrable. As for its economic explanation of the fact that the Encyclopédie was finished at all – “The single most important cause of the Encyclopédie’s survival . . . was the down-to-earth, bourgeois calculation that there was simply too much money bound up in the enterprise to allow it to migrate to Holland or Prussia” (235) – this is presented without evidence or scholarly citations. (One learns very little, in fact, about the physical aspects of writing and publishing in the 18th century.) Still, in the book’s defense, it does succeed in presenting an interesting narrative that helps the reader get a sense of the twists and turns of the complicated history of this famous but little-explored work.

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jensenmk
Sep 28, 2016

jensenmk thinks this title is suitable for All Ages

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jensenmk
Sep 28, 2016

“Without Malesherbes’ protection, the Encyclopédie would have died an unnoticed and early death” (88).

“What made the Encyclopédie so fascinating was the fact that Diderot had neither the ambition nor the systematic mind of a collector of facts: he was, instead, an artist” (151).

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