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Enlightening the World: Encyclopedia, The Book That Changed the Course of History Hardcover – April 21, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Trade (April 21, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403968950
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403968951
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #960,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*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 Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Balbach on December 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Philipp Blom is a delightful writer and this is a fascinating and highly entertaining history of the great French Encyclopedie created over the course of 25 turbulent years in the mid-1700s. Despite the title, this is really a book about people, with the encyclopedie as thread to tie the stories together. I have very little background in 18th C European/French history Blom makes it entirely accessible for novice and expert alike (although I suspect many of the stories here are well worn, but new to me, and well told). Probably the greatest compliment is I want to learn more about those involved, probably starting with a biography of Rousseau. This book easily sits besides Simon Winchester's "The Meaning of Everything" and Henry Hitchings "Defining the World". As another reviewer mentioned, anyone with an interest in Wikipedia will find it fascinating.
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This is the kind of book that even such dedicated encyclopedistes as Diderot, the Chevalier de Jaucourt and d'Alembert would have found hard to classify. Yes, it's history -- but is it political history? social history? biography? philosophy?

In fact, Blom's work is a masterful combination of all these, making it as unique and intriguing as the original Encyclopedie must have seemed to its 18th century readers, confronted as they were with a world where the amount of knowledge available (theoretically) to them grew exponentially by the day. How to keep pace with this? How could they maintain an understanding of the world and their place in it? That, as described by Blom, was one of the catalysts for the creation of the Encyclopedie, but the goals of its contributors and chief architects, especially Denis Diderot, were quite different. Rather than reinforce the existing social order and its underpinnings -- theological dogma as conveyed by the Catholic Church and absolute monarchy, represented in the person of Louis XV -- they embarked on a mission to portray an alternative world, one in which reason prevailed and where an artisan's talents and knowledge were valued as much as those of a pleasure-loving monarch. Often, this could only be accomplished indirectly -- as Blom shows by pointing out how thoughtful readers could fill in the gaps between the lines in the entries on drone bees, who served only as courtiers to the queen bee and didn't work for a living but lived off the efforts of the worker bees.
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Format: Hardcover
What was the real significance of the 'Encyclopedie' by Diderot and d'Alembert? Many will say its size and date of appearance marked it as special: Philipp Blom reveals its significance lie in its blend of politics, honesty and ideas which went against the Church and Crown alike in its effort to provide unbiased truth. Its publication was to underwrite the values of two centuries to come, with philosophers Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and medical scientist Louis de Jaucourt living through arrest, imprisonment, attacks and more for their achievement. The real importance of the Encyclopedie comes to life in this history of its controversies.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. Jeannotte on September 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Not the usual turgid history book of pre-revolutionary France but instead a very good, readable depiction of the trials and difficulties of creating the Encyclopedie. The prose is fluid and the book almost reads like a novel.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on May 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Blom adroitly tells how an important set of books came about that helped banish darkness at a time of absolute rule, much ignorance, and very limited tolerance. The courage, clear thinking, and simple humanity of the various dedicated authors who worked to create "The Encycopedia" in pre-revolutionary France is inspiring. A book I highly recommend as one fun to read along with "Enlightening the World" is "Voltaire in Exile" by Davidson, which is also out this year. Both deserve readers.
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