Inventing Human Rights: A History and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more
Buy Used
FREE Shipping on orders over $35.
Condition: Used: Good
Comment: Eligible for FREE Super Saving Shipping! Fast Amazon shipping plus a hassle free return policy mean your satisfaction is guaranteed! Tracking number provided free with every order. Good condition. Some wear to cover and edges, possibly small creases. Clean pages, no markings. Solid spine. Ex-library book with typical library markings.
Add to Cart
Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more

Inventing Human Rights: A History Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0393060959 ISBN-10: 0393060950

See all 4 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from Collectible from
"Please retry"
"Please retry"
$15.94 $5.47



Big Spring Books
Editors' Picks in Spring Releases
Ready for some fresh reads? Browse our picks for Big Spring Books to please all kinds of readers.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton (March 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393060950
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393060959
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,210,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This comprehensive work traces the development of human rights from its conceptual roots in the Enlightenment to its full expression in the United Nation's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hunt begins with a wonderfully detailed lexicographical survey of 18th century uses of rights language ("rights of man," "natural rights," "rights of humanity") to show the many currents that led to the first modern declaration of human rights, the Bill of Rights. She then triangulates the upswing in rights language with both the appearance of the novel of letters (such as Rousseau's Julie and Samuel Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa) and the rise of portraiture in the mid- to late-18th century. These particular art forms, she argues, fostered a sense of individuality in their audience and empathy for their subjects, most frequently "regular folks" rather than nobles, royalty, or saints. She then takes the reader through 250 years of rights legislation, covering the French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, various anti-torture measures and 20th century campaigns against human rights violations, among others. Despite the obvious academic grounding of this sweeping work, it is aimed at a wider audience and will appeal to most readers interested either in the history of human rights or in European or American history.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


A must-read for anyone who cares about civil society today. Brilliant, original, incisive, and accessible. -- Joan Dejean, author of The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour

Written by one of the leading historians of our time. Lynn Hunt's book greatly enriches the literature on human rights. -- Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize

More About the Authors

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

When they're found they are deposed or lacking that despised.
Stephen G. Malekian
The author is not clear as to whether such changes in thinking actually resulted in declarations of human rights; but one can say that they were coincident.
J. Grattan
Inventing Human Rights isn't really about the invention of human rights, but about the development of political rights.
S. Murdock

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Joshua Malle on May 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Inventing Human Rights" is a short, jargon-free book that would be appropriate for an undergraduate class or general readership. The introduction and first chapter is an examination of the cultural origins of the human rights ideology. The second chapter is a history of torture. Chapters 3-5 are a "conventional" history of human rights as traced through laws, constitutions, political philosophy, etc. from roughly 1750 to the present. There is a refreshing emphasis on the French Enlightenment (which is too often neglected in works in English).

Regarding research methods, Professor Hunt is good at tracing the circulation of ideas via the circulation of books. Careful attention is paid to when certain phrases (e.g. "rights of man", "human rights") were first used, how many times important books were reprinted, what percentage of 18th century homes and libraries they could be found in, and literacy rates.

The introduction poses the question "How is it that rights came to seem self-evident in the late 18th century?" Prof. Hunt proposes an explanation in terms of the diffusion of the cultural practices of "autonomy" and "empathy", where autonomy supplies the substance of the new ethic and empathy, the motive (pp. 29-30).

When Hunt writes of autonomy as a "cultural practice" she is referring primarily to the increasing sense of delicacy regarding the human body described in the work of Norbert Elias. She thinks, for instance, that here one can find the origin of the new repugnance at judicial torture (pp 82-83).
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Margaret R. Miles on May 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Hunt's thesis, as I read this fine book, is that although compassion was not a new idea in the eighteenth century, injunctions to compassion (from Christianity, for example) were not working to affect public life. Torture, public executions, etc. were habituating Western European populations to high levels of violence in daily life. Associating the rise of the novel to new sensibilities that began to alter society, Hunt argues that novels enabled large numbers of people (especially the designers and administrators of society) to understand the subjectivity of people unlike them, and thus to empathize with the sufferings of others. She suggests that these new sensibilities had real social effects in the development of human rights. Hunt traces these real effects in the language by which human rights came to be seen as universal and "inalienable." Historical theses based on simultaneity can never be proved, but Hunt makes a strong case for novels' ability to make compassion work in eighteenth century Western Europe.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Three hundred years ago, the idea that people in the world should regard themselves as equals or that all had important rights just because they were humans would have largely been regarded as laughable. Now human rights are taken for granted, and even are regarded as more important than that old standard, property rights. How did such a change happen? Lynn Hunt, a professor of modern European history, has some ideas, and has related them in _Inventing Human Rights: A History_ (Norton). There was a Bill of Rights in England in 1689, but it merely referred to "ancient rights and liberties" that derived from the tradition of English law. It did not have what Hunt describes as three interlocking qualities that are essential to human rights: "... rights must be natural (inherent in human beings), equal (the same for everyone) and universal (applicable everywhere)." The acceptance of such rights was a revolution in human thought and in the understanding of how governments were to prioritize their functions. It is a great story, one we can be proud of, and though progress toward acknowledgement of human rights has stumbled and halted at times, it has proved unstoppable.

The boom in concepts of human rights during the eighteenth century can never be fully explained, but Hunt thinks she has a clue. People began to read novels, especially epistolary ones in which characters themselves wrote out their feelings onto the page. Reading such a novel made people view the characters on the pages with empathy because the "narrative form facilitated the development of a 'character,' that is, a person with an inner self." The more lurid of the novels included scenes of torture, producing a revulsion in readers that would eventually help end the long tradition of judicial torture.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
28 of 37 people found the following review helpful By C. M. Clarke on April 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I felt this book gave a fairly good general overview, but based on the title had hoped it would go into greater depth on the philosophical foundations of human rights (the Enlightenment philosophers etc.)
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
31 of 43 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on April 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is an overview of human rights as they have been pronounced and practiced over the last 250 years. The principal documents that have described human rights are the Declaration of Independence of 1776, followed shortly by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen by the French National Assembly in 1789, and the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The author does discuss some preconditions for advancing the notion of human rights, but the concept has been vague from the start and this book does little to shore up the concept.

In the first place, many declarations of human rights assume that they are self-evident and then make feeble attempts to define the same - an exercise in contradiction. The author maintains that human rights must be "natural (inherent in human beings); equal (the same for everyone); and universal (applicable everywhere)." But they are "not the rights of humans in a state of nature; ... they are rights in the secular political world." Jeremy Bentham, 18th century thinker, found the notion of natural rights to be "simple nonsense." Jefferson maintains that unalienable rights actually exist in nature. Hobbes on the other hand finds a state of nature to be constant warfare - survival at best. Don't expect any resolution concerning fundamental definitions and contradictions of human rights.

The author notes that the epistolary novel rose in the late 18th century and created empathy for the thoughts and predicaments of common people especially in dealing with social betters. Characters were seen to be autonomous with the capability of exercising sound and independent moral judgments.
Read more ›
1 Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Product Images from Customers

Most Recent Customer Reviews


What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?