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on 18 August 2017
Interesting book. Easily read and packed with valuable information.
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This is the type of history that expands your knowledge base.
Porter describes the difficulties that the early scientists had to overcome to begin understanding the human body.
For too long, religious restrictions tried to keep our material body a mystery but these pioneers slowly uncovered
the secrets of us all. Porter plots the rise of the intellect as an upper-class substitute for the universal soul.
This provides a wonderful view of social attitudes evolving in Eighteenth Century European civilization.
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on 23 July 2014
Much pleasure can be derived, for anyone initiated and curious enough, in tracing the source of things. Here, we are concerned with the sources of contemporary scientific, rational thought. Or rather thinking about thought scientifically and rationally. How did we come to think, refer and talk about brain, the "mind", the body, the "flesh"-essentially ourselves- in the philosophical vocabulary and dialectical context like now? The answer, for those familiar with Roy Porter's ouevre,was in the European Enlightenment: the diffuse century-long intellectual movement where dialectics, politics, humanities, economics, medicine, science, linguistics, art, literature and all major spheres of human knowledge were retrieved from the dungeons of religion and replaced by models alight with reason, method, causality and critique.

Here we have Porter, Britain's go-to historian for everything Enlightenment-related, who in his endearing enthusiasm, holds his reader's fingers and takes you down the alleyways of British Enlightenment, knocking on the door of every iconoclast on the way and distilling their philosophical discourses for you. He had hinted he would do this in his earlier book: Enlightenment (a magnificent, authoritative history that is as compulsive a read as this one) and he rises to the occasion beautifully. For starters, he does a new, elaborate trip down the history lane before you meet these super-thinkers by summarising the major philosophical discussions over "soul" from Classical era to the religion-clogged thought-space of Middle Ages. How, beginning with Locke, piecemeal by piecemeal, the deconstruction of body-soul dualism got executed and supplanted by the dualism of body-mind through a battery of thinkers from a variety of professions forms the crux. Like its parallel Industrial Revolution that transformed the landscapes of Britain and Europe, this Intellectual Revolution transformed the thought-scapes, roles and lives of every creature that peopled the new Industrial cities and towns. It is from within these changing times that one can spot the germs of all modern institutions and contemporary discourses.

Fiercely erudite, intimidatingly intellectual, this mind-expanding text with a supremely pertinent enquiry at its core is a bonafide history tome for the shelf. Porter's excitement with this project is palpable with how patiently he constructs the synecdoche in the introductory chapter which distillates the book in the most magnificent prose possible. For me, the best delights are when, turn by turn, he gets to summarise the philosophical output of Locke, Wollstonecraft, Hume, Darwin, Godwin, Blake and Byron. Porter pens such passionate, feverish mini-autobiographies that I could literally smell the thought-soil these thinkers smelt, felt the force of their thought-shoots erupting and felt like I myself took the mind-bending philosophical leaps they took. From feminism to journalism to Romanticism: the reactionary, the off-shooting: all kinds of movements and their conductors get an applaud-worthy condensation here.

Porter, for me, was one of the foremost thinkers of the twenty first century whose histories are so throbbing with life and language that they have to be read. Flesh In the Age of Reason is an exhilarating and sublime swan song from a genius writer who left us too soon right at the peak of his powers.
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on 5 April 2011
Porter has such an effortless style and clarity that brings to life the development of Enlightenment considerations about the nature of man - the ways he has come to think of himself from the religious, through the philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, Descartes and Hume to the fabulous 'scientific' -flesh incarnate- myths of Erasmus Darwin and beyond.

His depiction of the medical professions' ambivalent positions with regard to drugs ought to be a set text in every medical school undergraduate curriculum; no doctor ought to be allowed to prescribe anything without thinking about this astonishing account.

A humorous and erudite pursuit of how we have arrived at our current magnificently fallacious ideas and beliefs about ourselves.
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This is an authoritative and illuminating book about attitudes to the body (and soul) in a period of transition in Britian. I will not repeat the analyses of the two excellent reviews here but just add that I read it with fascination and that it opened my mind to aspects that, as a student of literature, I had failed to appreciate. For example, his account of Dr Johnson is detailed, moving and full of insights. It explains much about his life, personality, writing and relationships, burdened as he was with a blighted body and unhappy upbringing. These pages so moved me that they formed the inspiration for one of my best poems.
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on 4 June 2006
This is without doubt one of the best history books I have ever had the pleasure to read. It is witty ,erudite, voluminous and entertaining. It covers a vast area of human, medical and enlightenment history, often diverting the reader to think of Porter's equally magnificent book on the enlightenment.

It is a tragedy that Dr Porter passed away before the publication of this book and deprived him of the satisfaction of seeing the reception this book received. His early death has also deprived us one of our finest historical minds.
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on 24 September 2014
The trouble with Roy Porter was that he simply knew too much. This is more like a vast tub of facts, aphorisms and tit-bits about the views on self and identity of great enlightenment thinkers rather than a clearly laid out set of arguments. I suspect it could have done with a bit more editing but he died before this could take place. You could never say that Roy Porter wasn't interesting, but I would have appreciated a bit more organisation.
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on 12 June 2013
This is a really good scholarly look at the age of reason and the spirit. A must for every student of the age of enlightenment and theological student alike
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on 22 February 2013
A fascinating study of the development of man and his concerns from theclassical Mediterranean to today. A thoroughly interesting read
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on 4 September 2015
thank you
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