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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressively challenging, 26 April 2014
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This review is from: Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (Hardcover)
This is a great book with a big theme: that our modern secular society has its origins in Christianity, or as Siedentop concludes, "Secularism is Christianity's gift to the world."

Many people will want to challenge, if not ridicule, this thesis because it runs counter to the standard prevailing view our modern society - characterised by individualism, with its emphasis on human rights and equality - is the product of the Enlightenment, which in turn was a reaction to and rejection of everything Christian. Siedentop marshals his evidence with impressive scholarship and flawless acumen from over two millennia to show this view is a myth which grossly misrepresents history.

It is this misrepresentation which leads to the polarisation of religion and secularism which has become an increasingly worrying feature of contemporary society with fundamentalists at both ends of the spectrum taking up increasingly entrenched positions of intolerance. Siedentop likens this to a 'new civil war' which has the potential to destroy an inclusive, tolerant liberal society. It is this concern which provides the motivation for his book and what makes it so timely.

The current debate over whether we are a Christian country often overlooks the fact that one does not need to be a Christian to see that its influence is embedded in the sort of society we have and the values that make it possible, values that Siedentop shows with eloquent persuasiveness - for this is a beautifully written book - to have sprung from the moral revolution caused by the eruption of this faith into the classical world of antiquity, radically challenging it.

I bought this book partly because of the cover: I became haunted by the face looking out at me as if to seek a conversation: who was this man? what does he stand for? what is his destiny? why is he looking at me? Jan de Leeuw, painted by Jan van Eyck, emerges with distinct individuality from the darkness of the fifteenth century - a largely forgotten period which saw the beginnings of the transformation of European society, when the words 'individual' and 'state' first came to be used. It is a time which holds up a distant mirror which helps us to understand who we are. We need to know this, and we need to know it urgently. Siedentrop provides answers which are both fascinating and challenging.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant - a tour de force, 28 April 2014
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This review is from: Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (Hardcover)
Siedentop's grasp of his subject and of the whole sweep of the history of ideas in western culture, as well as the clarity of his writing, makes this book a delight to read and a powerful antidote to the obscurantist denial of the key role that Christianity has played in the shaping of the Western democratic tradition of political life and thought. From his brilliantly sustained argument, it is clear that while the institutional Church has clearly at times sought to exercise authoritarian control over political life, the underlying dynamic unleashed by the radical inclusivity of the gospel and its development by Paul, Augustine and others has contributed immeasurably to the fundamental principles of equality and liberty which underpin the liberal democratic vision. His message is a vital one for a generation that has lost touch with its historical roots and is in danger of falling prey to profoundly illiberal trends, whether from fundamentalist religion or arrogant and intolerant atheism.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic piece of work! Worth paying the price of a hardback, 5 Jun 2014
This review is from: Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (Hardcover)
A thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read. This thesis is understandably controversial with todays climate however Siedentop carefully grounds his argument with vast informative amounts of evidence spanning over a period of two millennia. His level of scholarship is impressive.

Must read for any political science or history enthusiast

We didn't get here by gravity!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The only book I have felt sufficiently excited about to rate!, 4 July 2014
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This review is from: Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (Hardcover)
This is an outstanding book. Truly important and lucidly written. I found it an exhilarating read - it changed my thinking and I expect it will change yours.
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Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism
Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism by Larry Siedentop (Hardcover - 30 Jan 2014)
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