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A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691142005
ISBN-10: 0691142009
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Editorial Reviews


"Spinoza's radicalism was certainly frightening in its time, and Israel has valuably if aggressively opened the question of its influence on the Enlightenment and the era of revolution."--Samuel Moyn, Nation

"Israel is right to emphasize the importance of this intellectual movement, but since his is such a sweeping revision of so many generations of received ideas, his work raises the question of why the radical Enlightenment has been misunderstood or obscured for so long in favor of such colorful figures as Voltaire (in Israel's telling, a witty, snobbish sycophant). . . . We are lucky that a historian of Israel's caliber has taken these subjects on and lucky, too, that he has now produced a readable introduction to them."--Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine

"Israel's reasoned assertion for the influence of the Radical Enlightenment on democratic thought is certainly compelling, making this essential reading for students of the Enlightenment era as well as anyone interested in the foundations of modern democracy."--Library Journal

"Israel's new book is a breathtaking rethinking of the Enlightenment and its impact in the modern world."--Choice

"Perhaps no active scholar has shaped the conversation about the sources and meaning of the Enlightenment more than Jonathan Israel. . . . Almost miraculously, Israel manages to embody the greatest intellectual virtues and vices."--Christian Century

"Israel succeeds commendably in a great evaluation and dissemination of generally unknown texts from beyond the familiar territories of France, England, and America. In this respect, he broadens the common conception of where Enlightenment ideas were debated and implemented, unlike Isaiah Berlin, who failed to notice the American Enlightenment."--Rivka Weisberg and Carl Pletsch, 1650-1850

"In telling this fascinating story, A Revolution of the Mind reveals the surprising origins of our most cherished values--and helps explain why in certain circles they are frequently disapproved of and attacked even today."--World Book Industry

"The book is obligatory reading."--Antal Szántay, Israel, European History Quarterly

"[T]hanks to Israel's engaging narrative style, this is an accessible and entertaining, yet hugely informative read."--Sinéad Fitzgibbon, Marginalia

"Israel's book is itself a demonstration of just how alive Enlightenment values and ideals still are."--Alan Apperley, European Legacy

From the Back Cover

"This book succeeds beautifully. Written with confidence and concision, it lays out Jonathan Israel's central ideas about the Radical Enlightenment and its fundamental importance in shaping the values of democratic modernity. Those who already know his work will find a clear and bold statement of his principal arguments, as well as important elaborations and expansions. Those unfamiliar with his scholarship will get a masterful introduction to the work of one of the leading Enlightenment scholars in the world today."--Darrin M. McMahon, Florida State University

"Interesting, erudite, and provocative, this book provides readers with a succinct and clear introduction to Jonathan Israel's wide-ranging work on the Radical Enlightenment. It should command a broad readership."--James Schmidt, Boston University


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691142009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691142005
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,082,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Smith on February 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The publication of A Revolution of the Mind is most welcome, if only because it should make Jonathan Israel's ideas about Enlightenment thought more accessible to a broad reading public. His previous two volumes (Radical Enlightenment and Enlightenment Contested) total over 1700 pages of dense scholarship, more than enough to intimidate even stalwart generalist readers. Now in only about 250 pages he reviews his principal themes and gives us a précis of what apparently will be the substance of his planned longer third volume, focusing on the latter half of the eighteenth century.

This new work is based on lectures the author delivered at Oxford in 2008 commemorating Isaiah Berlin. Possibly aided by the fact that it was originally prepared to be spoken, it is clear, concise, and digestible.

For those not already familiar with one or both of the previous volumes, Israel has proposed that there was an opposition between "Radical" and "Moderate" Enlightenments. The foundation for the radicals was laid by Spinoza. Numerous others, perhaps most notably Bayle, carried the radical tradition forward, in large part through a clandestine literature, emerging later in the thought of men such as Diderot, d'Holbach, Helvétius, Condorcet, Paine, Priestly, Lessing, and Herder. The moderates in this later period included Voltaire, Montesquieu, Turgot, several Scots (such as Ferguson, Hume, Smith, Kames, and Reid), and Kant, to name just some of those more prominent. The radicals' conception of progress was democratic and materialist-determinist (or, alternatively, Christian-Unitarian), Israel holds, versus the moderates' providential religious or Deist views (Hume excepted) and preferences for monarchical-aristocratic order.
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79 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Bart van den Bosch on January 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It is commonly known that Jonathan Israel, professor of Modern History at Princeton, is a man with a mission. In Radical Enlightenment (2002) and Enlightenment Contested (2006) he presented his remarkable views on the history of the Enlightenment. His foremost motivation to do this lay in the ill-informedharsh judgment bestowed on the Enlightenment at the end of the twentieth century by anti-enlightenment thinkers and, closely connected to this, the highly unsatifactorial state historical research about this crucial epoch had fallen.
Israels central thesis in both the first two parts of his Enlightenment-project as well as in A Revolution of the Mind stresses that a fundamental distinction has to be made between Radical Enlightenment on the one hand, and Moderate Enlightenment on the other. Radical Enlightenment embodied the, if necessary through revolutionary means, pursuit of freedom of opinion, equal rights for all and the principal separation of church and state; each of which are core democratic values. Moderate Enlightenment, on the other hand, kept adhering to the idea of Providence, either Deïstic or religious and a strictly hierarchically structured society based on monarchal or aristocratic principles to which colonialism, economic exploitation and political suppression were inextricably linked. The changes these Moderates propagated would have to come about through gradual reform, leaving traditional structures as much untouched as possible; an approach with consequences not nearly as far reaching as that of their radical counterparts.
Jonathan Israel points out that there really was a revolution of the mind in the second half of the 18th century in Europe and Northern America.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Gayle Delaney on March 8, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the best book I have read on the Enlightenment; one that clarifies and organizes the streams of thought and political action that form the proudest development of humanity. To counter the depressing expressions of mankind: war, dominance, slavery, crime at all levels, exploitation of the weak, the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the strong and often corrupt, we have beautiful art... AND we have the thought and action that express themselves the Enlightenment. The author makes it very clear that this precious movement is ever threatened by ignorance and credulity and by those who would nurture the weaker, more passive side of the populace while enriching the forces of those who concentrate power and wealth and rig the system to darken the Enlightenment.
It is shocking and sad that the current education of many, if not most Americans, ignores the development of the Enlightenment and allows superficial and highly distorted of teachings about our revolution to define freedom and liberty. Equality on many levels is seen as a threat, one as great as that of teaching children to be rational and to question authority. Our democracy suffers greatly from this ignorance and closed-mindedness. Free-thinkers are a threat to institutions that depend upon the credulity and fear, ignorance, and irrationality that reign in huge pockets of our electorate.
I would like to encourage the author NOW to write a book aimed at high school children and adults who have never read books on the Enlightenment nor, of course it's principle authors, and who do not speak French or Latin. I would stand on the corner and help him sell it!

NB: Be careful, this title is easily confused with many identical or similar. I also have an iTunes mp3 version which I could not find here for flooding of similar mp3 titles.
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