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.
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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