*Starred Review* As Kors' preface observes, the Enlightenment is "a set of tendencies and developments of European culture from the 1670s to the early nineteenth century (including in the American outposts of that culture)." An encyclopedia that attempts to cover such a span of time and most of western Europe and America is faced with a daunting task. Fortunately, the more than 400 contributors from around the world are up to it, producing a work that will be of use to anyone interested in virtually any topic from this time period.
The alphabetically arranged set of just under 700 entries (counting the many subentries, such as the separately authored articles "An Overview" and "Philosophical Legacy" under the main entry Colonialism) has articles running from about a page or so (Defoe, Daniel; Latrobe, Benjamin) to more than 14 pages (Republicanism). Topics include overviews of cities or countries (Milan, Spain) as well as of more general topics such as Moral philosophy, Opera, or Technology. Fully half of the entries are biographical, covering people from all disciplines and countries. Among them are several contemporary figures, such as historians Peter Gay and Jurgen Habermas. One of the longest entries (at more than 12 pages) is the historiographical Enlightenment studies, which describes the conflicts engendered by and the diverse constructions applied to the concept of the Enlightenment over the past 300 years. The encyclopedia itself reflects this diversity by presenting, as the preface states, "a wide range of general and particular contexts, schools of thought, and interpretations." For example, the article Sexuality concludes by noting that "[the Marquis de] Sade's writing marks an important turn, showing pornography as political because it focuses on subjugating women, and as erotic because that subjugation is the source of arousal and sexual performance." On the other hand, the contributors for the entry Pornography state "we believe that Sade was a bad man and a boring writer who deserved his incarceration."
The encyclopedia is augmented by more than 200 illustrations (primarily reproductions of engravings or other art), six maps, a topical outline of articles at the beginning of the set, and a superb index at the end. All articles conclude with cross-references to other entries and a bibliography that typically lists primary works, important scholarly works regardless of language, and the most useful studies in English. Many bibliographies include brief annotations.
This is the third work published recently that bears the same title. Facts On File's Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (1996) is a one-volume resource intended for a more general audience. The two-volume Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment edited by Michel Delon (Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001) is a translation of a work originally published in 1997 in France, featuring just over 350 entries from more than 200 contributors, although there are no biographical entries. The recent publication date of the Fitzroy Dearborn set at a price ($285) just over half that of the Oxford could give many libraries pause before deciding to add the latter to their collections. Academic institutions offering programs in Enlightenment studies could not go wrong with both sets, but Oxford has an edge in that it is not as centered on France. The inclusion of biographical entries likewise gives Oxford an advantage in any larger public or academic libraries that have a need for material in this area.
The following is a list of additional recent and recommended reference sources. RBB
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"This new work offers the most comprehensive and up-to-date coverage available....Impressive range and currency."--Library Journal [Starred Review]
"The definitive reference source for this enormously important epoch."--American Reference Book Annual
"The most comprehensive resource available about the era that transformed Western Civilization."--Historical Media Review
"Extremely well timed."--Boston Globe
"An excellent choice for students."--School Library Journal
"A valuable guide to the period."--History Magazine
"One of the most ambitious and important reference works to be published in recent years."--Reason