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The Portable Enlightenment Reader (Viking Portable Library) [Paperback]

Isaac Kramnick
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Mar 1996 Viking Portable Library
The Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, also called the Age of Reason, was so named for an 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 works from this era, with more than 100 selections from a range of sources. It includes examples 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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (28 Mar 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140245669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140245660
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 135,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

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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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really Useful Stuff! 9 Jan 2006
I found this book invaluable in my studies of the enlightenment period, it features a broad range of essays and articles written by figures of interest from the 18th century enlightenment period. Including Descartes' 'I Think, Therefore I am...' John Locke's 'An essay concerning human understanding' Rousseau, Liebniz, Hume, Kant, Frederick the great and many many more...
I would strongly reccomend this book if you are studying this period in history, literature or just have an interest in this time.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbiased view of the enlightenment. Super! 23 Oct 2010
By sanyata
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this book attemps to show what the enligthenment was in its true for. it does not sugar-code the harsher aspects of teh enlightenment (i.e. laissez-fair capitalism and libertarianism) and likewise it does not attempt to hide the racism of many enligthenment thinkers such as super. a must get book!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
72 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enlightenment Buffet 6 July 2003
By Bucherwurm - Published on
The eighteenth century Enlightenment is one of the most interesting and exciting periods of intellectual history. The thinkers of that age had a sizable impact on concepts of science, nature, politics, religion and society. How do we become immersed in the wealth of writing of that period, however, without giving up job and family in order to read the works of the Enlightenment authors?
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.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OK, so I'm a dilettante - but now a (more) educated one 1 Mar 2009
By Stan Vernooy - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
More than forty years ago, when I was a college undergraduate, I ran across several lists books that were recommended reading for anyone who wanted to be truly educated. Those lists invariably included books such as Rousseau's "The Social Contract," The Federalist Papers, Voltaire's "Candide," and many other writings from the Enlightenment era (as well, of course, as other time periods). I dutifully noted the titles, and, wanting to consider myself an educated person, fully intended to read all of them.

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.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but misrepresentative selection of Enlightenment writings 20 May 2012
By Marc Riese - Published on
Editor Isaac Kramnick describes the Enlightenment as "an age when intellectuals eagerly wrote for the wider audience of new readers, not yet having become alienated from the philistine public in a posture of romantic weariness." This book offers many of the most influential Enlightenment texts. It is a pleasure to read the earnest, excited, hopeful and well-intended thoughts the Enlightenment directly from their original source. The book has substantial drawbacks, but it is well worth reading.

First a look at the positive. Most of the writings selected in this book are important, and editor Isaac Kramnick's introduction is insightful, albeit with a narrow focus (more on that below). The selections are grouped non-chronologically by theme and include on average four-page citations from the more influential writings of a given author, allowing the reader to get some feeling for the author without having to read the entirety of the original sources. Kramnick starts each selection with two sentences about its origin, date and significance. The original texts are probably all available free on the internet, but then the reader would have to find the juicy bits by him or herself, so it would be much more work to get an overview.

The selections of materials offer much to learn. The reader comes directly to the text where John Locke calls for the separation of Church and State or where Adam Smith invokes the invisible hand. It is fascinating to read seminal texts, such as Kant's reasoning leading to his categorical imperative. I particularly liked a selected poem from Alexander Pope (p255) that conveys both the thinking and the excitement of the times, including hero worship of Newton, and a poem from Bernard Mandeville, "The Fable of the Bees", on the economic benefits of self-interest. Also fascinating is an anonymous selection from 1792 which describes French revolutionaries propagating their doctrinal morals (e.g., "reason guides us and enlightens us"), using symbols such as fasces, and replacing the Christian icons in the sanctuary of Notre Dame Cathedral with a statue of the "Goddess of Reason". The ceremony ended when "All took the oath to live in freedom or to die." Kramnick shows how the principles of economic laissez-faire, free trade and governmental non-intervention in the marketplace were proposed by Quesnay and Turgot, many years before Adam Smith did. The reader also sees the hard limits of how enlightening the Age of Enlightenment was, such as when Hume, Jefferson, Kant and Rousseau (among others) rationalise misogynist and/or racist attitudes.

The selections and Kramnick's comments also show the direct intellectual influence of European Enlightenment thinkers on the founding of the USA. The Declaration of Independence (one of the selected texts) and the American Constitution are products of the Enlightenment. Kramnick points out that the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence paraphrase Locke.

And now some criticisms. The book claims to "bring together the era's classic works ... from a broad range of sources...". The introduction mentions in one sentence that the Enlightenment involved many countries. These beginnings are misleading. The narrow focus of this anthology is misrepresentative of the breadth and depth of the Enlightenment. Only a small number of relevant countries and their Enlightenment figures are included. What about the others? Of the 116 individual writings supposedly representative of the Enlightenment, more than 95% are British, French or American. If one includes the few selections from four Germanic writers (Kant, Leibnitz, Mozart, Frederick the Great), then the figure exceeds 98%. There are just two selections from Italians (Vico, Beccaria). It is as if nothing significant was written outside these countries. Some of the selections are not particularly significant and could have been replaced with more significant writings outside of this narrow focus.

Kramnick confines the span of the Age of Enlightenment from the 1680s to the 1790s. He bases this starting time solely on English and French milestones, such as the English constitutional monarchy, Newton's Principia and the writings of Locke, Bayle and Fontonelle (all of whom had made substantial contributions before the 1680s). Earlier Enlightenment milestones go unmentioned in the introduction. There was no exact moment that the Enlightenment started, but Kramnick's starting point is like saying that the average person's day begins at noon. In the first half of the book are the two excerpts written before Kramnick's starting point: from Bacon's Novum Organum of 1620 and from Descartes's Discourse on Method of 1637. These were revolutionary and seminal. The Enlightenment, as a new movement of questioning everything in the new light of reason and empiricism, was already under way by 1648, the year when the Thirty Year's War ended and a time when many Europeans were sickened by violence in the name of religion. By the 1680s the networks of the Republic of Letters (1664), the coffee-houses (1650), and substantial smuggling of Enlightenment books from Holland (for example) were old hat. By the time Newton published his works, a vast path had been cleared for him by the heroes who were forced to push through the darkness at the dawn of the Enlightenment, inevitably making errors on the way. Newton was aware of and grateful for their gigantic work. Voltaire points out how Newton had the advantage of living after scholasticism had been largely banished.

Kramnick writes that the end of the Enlightenment is "best linked" to the realisation of Enlightenment ideals "in the revolutionary fervor that swept through America, France and even England". All of these milestones focus on only three countries. What of the many others countries? Benjamin Franklin, who lived in the latter part of the Enlightenment, is featured as the sole character on the cover of a book pretending to cover key Enlightenment readings. What about those who enabled and triggered the Enlightenment, or those who battled first and at great risk to make its ideas accepted?

Granted the importance of the Enlightenment and the fabulous richness of its writers, why such a narrow selection almost exclusively of writings from three countries? For example, the anthology includes David Hume's criticism of the belief in miracles, written in 1768 when such criticism was not at all original, but completely ignores the innumerable writers who confronted such beliefs more than a century beforehand. Was Kramnick following the herd of his time and delivering the goods to satisfy limited expectations? Were limited language skills a factor? Was the motivation to focus on three imperial countries to make an uncomplicated narrative understandable and pleasing to a simple audience?

This misrepresentation is misleading for students and denies other Enlightenment figures their due. For those seeking to understand and appreciate the real depth and breadth of the Enlightenment, Jonathan Israel's three volume series gives an excellent view of the reality (especially "Radical Enlightenment", which has changed the historical perception of the Enlightenment).

Like other editions of the venerable Viking Portable Libary series, this book offers much reading at an affordable price. Viking Portables were often aimed at enthusiasts. (The first of the over 100 editions was published in 1943 to give American troops a literary anthology.) Although this particular book gives no indication of its target audience, it will certainly be more satisfying for casual enthusiasts than for scholars. Neither this book nor the other two Viking Portable Libary books that I read have an index or footnotes to the main texts. Granted how easy it is to generate an index, this is unhelpful. The introduction gives no word about how, when or by whom the original sources were edited or translated. The texts are mostly converted to modern English, with somewhat random exceptions where older English is used. The translations from French are often incorrect because they translate idioms word for word, thereby losing their meaning.

As far as I have been able to determine, this is the only such collection of Enlightenment readings available. Again, despite drawbacks, this book is a good read.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FACINATING pure AND simple 31 Oct 2005
A Kid's Review - Published on
The Age of Enlightenment, the Rise of Science, the art, and literature of the eighteenth century has always been an interest of mine. So you can imagine how amazed and elated I was when I came across this gold.

It has all the big enlightenment writers such as Voltaire, Diderot, Leibniz, Paine, Addison, Pope, Montesqieu, Franklin and many more. It gives a great run down of the wit, the result of the evolution of thought, politics, society and reason as seen in the words of these great minds.

The only thing that I didn't like about this is that there is no Hobbes, which is only a minor quibble. I just thought that since there is Descates, who is not of the eighteenth century enlightenment (17th century and dryer than dust), but a major influence (like Hobbes was included, Hobbes, who was a major link from Descartes to Locke should be included and the provacative and ENLIGHTENING words from The Leviathan should grace the pages of this indispensible book and yet another superb volume from the Viking Portable Library.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great resource, great browser 3 Oct 2012
By Dean Cox - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I have had this in printed format for years, now in kindle. It is a quick review of enlightenment source material. In some cases, only selections from the original documents are shown; this is helpful since some of the philosphes were notoriously wordy, but if you want to go deeper this book may leave you asking about the rest of the document. Anytime someone down-selects from sources, they make interpretive decisions, and not everyone agrees with those decisions. But if you're like me, an armchair philosopher and historian, this book may be for you. If you only want to sit down for a half-hour and read a piece from Priestly or Hume, Jefferson or Franklin, Montesquieu or Voltaire, it's nice to have a good browser like this. If you need a quote, most of the quotes you need will be in these selections. If it's not, you know how to find the rest of the work. I appreciate the topical groupings because it has shown me authors who I did not know had written on a topic. It has essays, poems, even snippets from an opera. It's not a complete study on the period, but it gives you a great start with the primary sources, and is fun to browse through.
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