The Portable Enlightenment Reader Paperback – Dec 1 1995
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From the Back Cover
The Age of Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, also called the Age of Reason, was so named for an exultant intellectual movement that shook the foundations of Western civilization. In championing radical ideas such as individual liberty and an empirical appraisal of the universe through rational inquiry and natural experience, Enlightenment philosophers in Europe and America planted the seeds for modern liberalism, cultural humanism, science and technology, and laissez-faire capitalism. This volume brings together the era's classic works, with more than a hundred selections from a broad range of sources - including works by Kant, Diderot, Voltaire, Newton, Rousseau, Locke, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Paine - that demonstrate the pervasive impact of Enlightenment views on philosophy and epistemology as well as on political, social, and economic institutions. Included are seminal discourses on science and religion, on the social contract, on the equality (and inequality) of the sexes and the races, and on economics and markets, as well as homages to nature and sexual pleasure, and poetry and opera librettos that embody the movement's social ideals.
About the Author
Isaac Kramnick was born in 1938 and educated at Harvard University, where he received a B.A. degree in 1959 and a Ph.D. in 1965, and at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He has taught at Harvard, Brandeis, Yale and Cornell, where he is now Professor of Government. He is married to Miriam Brody Kramnick and lives in Ithaca, New York. Among his publications are Bolingbroke and His Circle, The Rage of Edmund Burke and numerous articles on eighteenth century topics. He has edited William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, The Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay and, with Michael Foot, The Thomas Paine Reader for the Penguin Classics. Most recently he is the author, with Barry Sheerman, MP, of Laski: A Lift on the Left.
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Top Customer Reviews
This reader is an excellent book for novices and experienced readers alike. It is an excellent 600+ page book filled with short, pithy excerpts from the key thinkers of the period. Actually the writings go back as far as 1620 with an excerpt from Francis Bacon where he puts down the Greek philosophers and introduces what is to become the scientific method. Beccaria comes up with novel thinking on crime and punishment. Does the death penalty deter crime? How about the punishment fitting the crime instead of being meted out at the whim of some aristocrat?
Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau and Paine weigh in with their political philosophy. The skeptics speak up with their religious criticisms. Manners, morals, art, war, and gender and race issues are all discussed by the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft, David Hume, Reynolds, Pope, and Bentham.
Bite sized as these entries are, they give the flavor of Enlightenment thought. And, importantly for the general reader, they are all mentally digestible. You don't have to read every paragraph six times in order to get a glimmer of the authors' meanings. The represented authors are not just from France either. The best thinkers from France, Italy, Germany, the United States and Great Britain are represented.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
Readers looking for pure philosophy will not be disappointed: the anthology contains a fine selection of excerpts from Bacon, Descartes, Leibnitz, Newton, Hume, Kant, and others. But the Enlightenment embodied more than abstract speculation, and Kramnick skillfully arranges sections on science, religion, art, morality, education, history, politics, economics, crime, war, gender, and race.
Each topic draws upon a diverse array of authors. This gives the reader a sense of the popularity of Enlightenment thought, as well as its development from the middle of the seventeenth century to the start of the nineteenth. Intellectual giants like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Locke appear alongside a gallery of lesser-known but fascinating figures: Nicolas de Condorcet, mathematician and revolutionary terrorist; William Godwin, anarchist and lover of Mary Wollstonecraft; Olympe de Gouges, early feminist playwright; John Cleland, author of the scandalous Fanny Hill - a vital source for the study of eighteenth-century sexuality, and still hilarious after 270 years.
Any collection as ambitious as Kramnick's is bound to have a few faults. The most glaring omission is George Berkeley, whose philosophy of radical skepticism makes no appearance. A few texts from writers outside of the Enlightenment tradition - I'm thinking of Goethe, Herder, and the Marquis de Sade - would have rounded out the reader's sense of the diversity of eighteenth-century thought. That said, I know Penguin has commissioned another volume in this series, on Romanticism, so I expect that some of these 'Counter-Enlightenment' authors will feature in the coming volume.
These are all petty quibbles. If you are looking for a fresh and thorough introduction to the Western Enlightenment, Isaac Kramnick's Enlightenment Reader is the ideal place to start. This compendium brings to life one of the most important periods in the history of Europe and its colonies: you will find that the great men and women of the eighteenth century were just that - men and women - and yet no less great for their humanity. I am extremely pleased with my purchase, and I am confident that you will feel the same.
Within these 700 or so pages, the book provides the reader with an introduction to the Enlightenment and does so in such a way that there's an appreciation as to the role of this unique era in the foundation of our modern society. The selection of readings were both famous and obscure, but the reader is not left feeling that they didn't get a fair shake at the real elements of the philosophy that fueled the American and French revolutions, led to the establishment of the modern Western democracy, and continues to serve as a foundation of modern political and ethical thought.
If there is one book for every student to read before they leave high school, or certainly college, it is this one. A must read.
Well now I'm 62, and it's time for me to admit that I'm almost certainly never going to read "The Social Contract." This volume is for me and others like me, who are suffering from the "So Many Books, So Little Time" syndrome. The book contains a broad selection of writings from the major thinkers of the Enlightenment, which the editor defines roughly from the 1680's to the 1790's.
What a marvelous time it must have been to be an intellectual! The barriers erected by the authority of the kings, priests, and classical writers were being shattered. The ability to ask new questions and propose new answers produced an almost intoxicating sense of infinite possibilities for the improvement - even the perfection - of human society.
Some of the pieces in this book will seem hopelessly naive to our modern cynical minds; on the other hand, some of the points being made so excitedly and even belligerently are now taken for granted - and we are likely to read them and say, "What's the big deal? Everyone knows that." And then there are the debates about the most fundamental questions - such as the source of knowledge - that have yet to be resolved, and probably never will be.
If you read this, you will almost certainly get caught up in the excitement of the exploration of the ideas. You will almost certainly have your own thoughts stimulated, and your own opinions challenged.
And you can smugly pretend that you have read Roussseau, Locke, Hume, Kant, and Voltaire - and no one (except real scholars) will be the wiser.
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