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Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World (Allen Lane History) [Paperback]

Roy Porter
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Product Description

Amazon Review

Roy Porter is Professor in the Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine in London and among his previous publications is the first-rate The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity From Antiquity to the Present. Porter's general concern in his latest book Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World is with "the interplay of activists, ideas and society" and to this end he examines innovations in social, political, scientific, psychological, and theological discourse. The key figures (the "enlightened thinkers") read like a Who's Who of the 17th and 18th centuries: Newton, Locke, Bernard de Mandeville, Erasmus Darwin, Priestley, Paine, Bentham, and Britain's "premier enlightenment couple" Mary Woolstonecraft and William Godwin, as well as the men who helped popularise and disseminate their ideas such as Addison, Steele, Defoe, Pope and Sterne. The book is peppered with brilliant quotes throughout and despite the fact that it covers such a vast area of ground in a rapid and sometimes breathless manner, Porter just about manages to hold it all together. Traditionally "The Enlightenment" has been associated with France, America and Scotland rather than Britain which, strangely enough, is thought not to have had an enlightenment to speak of. Porter's main argument effectively upsets this view but also he provides a persuasive general defence of Enlightenment against its Foucauldian, feminist, and/or postmodern critics who still "paint it black". Perpetually dismissed as "anything from superficial and intellectually naïve to a conspiracy of dead white men in periwigs [who] provide the intellectual foundation for Western imperialism", one of the strengths of the book is that after reading it one finds it hard to understand how these "critiques" gained such influence in intellectual circles. One of the shortcomings of the book--as Porter is well aware--is that "too many themes receive short measure", such as literature and the arts, political debate, the forging of nationalism and more. Several chapters, if not all, could have been given, and perhaps deserved, book-length treatment and this is the reason why a book of nearly 500 pages seems so short. But if Enlightenment leaves the reader unsatisfied, it is in the best possible way--one would have liked to hear more from Porter rather than less. Word has it he is already planning an encore. --Larry Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'...[a] magisterial survey...an enlightened text itself, a tribute to progress and to happiness.' -- Peter Ackroyd, The Times

'...an exhilarating book...A provocative and illuminating survey.' -- Jenny Uglow, Sunday Times

'An extraordinarily accomplished book...Simply superb.' -- Kathryn Hughes, New Statesman

'His new book is exhilarating, because it attempts to provide a coherent map of the jostling highways of ideas that drove through the century...' -- Jenny Uglow, The Sunday Times, 8th October 2000

'In tackling the Enlightenment head-on, Roy Porter's new book can be seen as the culmination of an astonishingly prolific and impressive career' -- Allen Lane, The Scotsman, Monday 9th October 2000

'Porter doesn't so much argue as hammer home his brilliantly selected evidence.' -- Tim Radford, The Guardian, Saturday 30th September 2000

'Ranging through everything from sermons to small ads, from surgery to shopping, he evokes with overwhelming vividness a transforming, if essentially tacit, revolution.' -- Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

'This is a remarkably rich book that carries its length and impressive learning with great style. .' -- Linda Colley, Financial Times, 8th October 2000

'This is a splendid book... a tonic to those dismayed by the current writing-down of English history.' -- Paul Johnson, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday 15th October 2000 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Roy Porter is Professor in the Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London.
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