From Publishers Weekly
In the dark corners of Paris's bohemian cafes, salons and theaters, some of the greatest European thinkers of the 18th century congregated, and it was here that the Encyclopédie was born. The most enormous publishing effort of the day, the Encyclopédie would be neither the first of its kind nor ultimately the largest. But in this meticulously researched historical narrative, journalist and historian Blom (To Have and to Hold) argues that the Encyclopédie represents a turning point in the tide of intellectual history and is the last veritable record of Europe's ideas, traditions, politics, economics, tools and restrictions before the French Revolution. The bulk of Blom's narrative is driven by the drama that occurred among the work's many contributors and between them and the society in which they lived. The writers, many of whom stood for free thought and secularism, struggled with censorship, exile and even prison. And, as is revealed here through epistolary exchanges, on a personal level, the famed band of philosophes-including Diderot, D'Alembert, Voltaire, Grimm and Rousseau-were divided by mistresses, money, manipulation and, most of all, ego. Blom takes the reader through these events and through the Encyclopédie itself in a thorough and engaging way, and he makes a strong case for the work's importance in shaping philosophy and political thought for years to come. This book is a welcome read for European historians and for those interested in learning about one of the foremost works of the Enlightenment.
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*Starred Review* Late in this absorbing history of the most notorious European publication of the eighteenth century, Blom says that the Encyclopedie
marks the end more than the beginning of an era. Intended in part to describe, and thereby honor, the shop crafts on which urbanizing Europe relied for the material base of civilization (apparel, foodstuffs, building materials, utensils and tools, etc.), the 28-volume work, 25 years in the making, became the largest resource on preindustrial means of production. In mid-eighteenth-century Paris, the church and the monarchy saw (accurately) in the Encyclopedie
the uprising of materialism, atheism, and republicanism against them. Many Encyclopedie
contributors were harassed, imprisoned, and/or exiled by Louis XV's government, spurred on by Jesuits and Jansenists, who, otherwise at each other's throats, united against the godless Encyclopedie
. In the end, the new age of venture capitalism won out. The Encyclopedie
's bookseller-financiers were too heavily invested to let it die. They made out like bandits, too, while the intellectuals who wrote it had to settle for fame (the principal writer of the last several volumes didn't even get a complimentary set). The sympathetic hero of the whole endeavor was Denis Diderot, leading editor throughout, who was legally obliged, for the sake of the Encyclopedie
, to suppress his now-classic novels and essays during his lifetime. The Encyclopedie
's story is both epic and epochal, and Blom tells it intelligently, gracefully, and stylishly. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved