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The Enlightenment is one of the formative periods of Western history, yet more than 300 years after it began, it remains controversial. It is often seen as the fountainhead of modern values such as human rights, religious toleration, freedom of thought, scientific thought as an exemplary form of reasoning and rationality and evidence-based argument. Others accuse the Enlightenment of putting forward a scientific rationality which ignores the complexity and variety of human beings, propagates shallow atheism and aims to subjugate nature to so-called technical progress.
Ritchie Robertson engages with all these views to show that the Enlightenment sought above all to increase human happiness in this world by promoting scientific inquiry and reasoned argument and by challenging the authority traditionally assumed by the churches. His book presents illuminating readings of many key Enlightenment texts and overturns many received opinions - for example, that enlightenment necessarily implied hostility to religion. Answering the question 'what is Enlightenment?' Kant famously urged men and women above all to use their own understanding. Robertson shows how the thinkers of the Enlightenment did just that, seeking a rounded understanding of humanity in which reason was balanced with emotion and sensibility. It is a master-class in 'big picture' history, about one of the foundational epochs of modern times.
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- S. Moorcroft
An excellent overview of a hertogeneous and complex multi-faceted and international movement whose sole common factor was an engagement with the affairs of men, -and to a lesser extent women. It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive overview. Even when disagreeing with the arguments presented here one develops a greater understanding of the subject. I would have liked more on enlightened reactions to the slave trade, -he does cover this, but I would have liked more. Fully merits five stars.
2 people found this helpful
- T Bailey
Fascinating, wide-ranging and erudite. I stuck with it to the end, and I am glad I did.
But the author is no stylist and it is very long.
1 person found this helpful
Really enjoyed listening to this book. Narrator is excellent. Would recommend it for anyone interested in the history of ideas.