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Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World [Hardcover]

Roy Porter
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Oct 2000 Allen Lane History
It is almost impossible to encapsulate briefly the range and variety contained in Roy Porter's major new book. For generations the focus for those wishing to understand the roots of the modern world has been France on the eve of the Revolution. Porter certainly acknowledges France's importance, but makes an overwhelming, fascinating case for considering Britain the "true" home of modernity - a country driven by an exuberance, diversity and power of invention comparable only to 20th-century America. Porter immerses the reader in a society which, recovering from the horrors of the Civil War and decisively reinvigorated by the revolution of 1688, had emerged as something new and extraordinary - a society unlike any other in the world. This explosion of activity left no one unchanged and created a society with many of the values we recognize and value today - sceptical, pleasure-obsessed, garrulous, innovative, meritocratic. This book's cast includes many of the most engaging and attractive writers and conversationalists that ever lived and the host of great figures who cross these pages, from Newton and Locke to Burke and Wollstonecraft, are brought to life by Porter. As an introduction to a unqiuely appealing world, "Enlightenment" could not be bettered and as an arrangement for Britain's central importance in catapulting the world into the modern era (for better and for worse) it is both compelling and entertaining.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; Reprint edition (5 Oct 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713991526
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713991529
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.4 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 323,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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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

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

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling Enlightenment 29 Jan 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A tour de force of Enlightenment nostalgia, Roy Porter encapsulates the dynamism of this intellectually saturated epoch with charm and wit.
Focusing on Great Britain's contribution to the enlightenment transition, a wealth of heavyweight characters and intellectuals transports the reader through the great debates and episodes of the 'birth' of modernity, elegantly woven together with pithy prose and scattered quotations. This is a gratifying book which will leave you thoroughly furnished with ideas.
There are, however, a substantial quantity of notes supplementing the main text, which are definitely worth perusal, but may deter some readers.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightened 14 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An interesting book which illustrates well that our much-vaunted present-day Christian heritage is actually in my new estimation, the oppressive Christianity of up to about 1750 then heavily modified by the Enlightenment (which flourished particularly in Scotland) to become Post-Christian (all praise to Rowan Williams).
Porter's vocabulary is/was clearly about four times wider than my own and I struggled (pleasurably) with his text in nearly every sentence.
Overall, using stamina, a very enjoyable and enlightening read.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book 5 April 2008
By Tommo
Format:Paperback
Read this book in a week-end, dipping in and out of different chapters. A tour de force that introduces the reader to the British enlightenment, in a very balanced way. Traditional views of the enlightenment are presented against alternative interpretations.
The book is well structured, supported by excellent references and notes. As an introduction to the very British dynamics of this fascinating period, it cannot be recommended too highly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 16 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
replacement for lost copy.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book... 8 Dec 2002
Format:Paperback
Excellent book.
Very well arranged chapter's which makes it easy to get a clear idea on the key topics, this also makes it easy to re-read specific aspects ie women, religion, the print explosion etc.
It puts a cross Britain's contribution (creation?) of a fascinating period of rapid development in spheres from philosophy to science and throughout society at all levels.
Only very slight criticism would be that on a few occasions he tends to list things within the text. Good for giving quick impact of a movement or view of something but towards the end got a little tiresome.
I feel one indication of a good book is if it inspires other purchases/interests. It passed this test quite easily.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very informative 19 Jan 2013
By Tosca
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am studying with the OU and this book covers the period in question. I also read his greatest benefit to Mankind last year. He is informative while being very readable
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