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The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism (Vol. 1) (Enlightenment an Interpretation) (v. 1) Paperback – July 17, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Extraordinary and brilliant.” — R. R. Palmer (Journal of Modern History)

About the Author

Peter Gay (1923―2015) was the author of more than twenty-five books, including the National Book Award winner The Enlightenment, the best-selling Weimar Culture, and the widely translated Freud: A Life for Our Time.
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Product Details

  • Series: Enlightenment an Interpretation
  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (July 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393313026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393313024
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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99 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Morseburg on October 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
Peter Gay is an important intellectual historian and in his lengthy work "The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism" he summarizes the ideas of the great philosophers and how they changed the world. This book is a work of great erudition, of synthesis and he begins with the relationship between the philosophers of the 18th century and those of the classical period. The philosophers of the Enlightenment, active in the late seventeenth through the middle of the eighteenth century, had an affection for the Greek and Roman era, but felt the recent discoveries in science, the search for empirical fact, had allowed their own era to supercede the work of the great classical philosophers.

While the classicists inspired the philosophers of the Enlightenment, theis new breed of thinkers were generally contemptuous of religion and they sought to confront, to challenge and to overturn the philosophical concepts of the Hebrew and Christian thinkers who they viewed as their rhetorical adversaries in the battle beaten reason and faith.

Gay is an engaging writer with a gift for synthesizing a raft of material. Here he neatly summarizes the philosophical historians work: "...the philosophes wrote history with rage and with partisanship, and their very passion allowed them to penetrate into regions hitherto inaccessible to historical explorers. Yet it also made them condescending and oddly parochial: their sense of the past merged all too readily with their sense of the present." Although the philosophes view of history was critical, pessimistic, they saw the world "divided between ascetic superstitious enemies of the flesh, and men who affirmed life, the body, knowledge, and generosity; between mythmakers and realists, priests and philosophers.
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143 of 152 people found the following review helpful By W.T. Oosterveld on March 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
The Enlightenment by Peter Gay (2 volumes: The Rise of Modern Paganism and The Science of Freedom) surely ranks among the most brilliant accounts of eighteenth-century philosophy ever written. It is a sweeping account of the intellectual history of the 18th century, form its origins right into the French and American Revolutions. It traces the struggle of the small clique of 'philosophes' -a dispersed group of intellectual giants such as Voltaire, Hume, Lessing and Beccaria- as they fight against corruption, superstition and ignorance, which has kept Europe slumbering since the demise of the Roman Empire. The book vividly illustrates the ideas of the 'philosophes' and how they wanted to bring their reform programs into practice, and thereby spread the ideals of liberty and the pursuit of knowledge. Peter Gay deftly describes the cultural background of the 'philosophes' and explains how they came to challenge the establishment in order to bringing about these much needed changes so as to give their ideals a chance to prevail. The book has an extensive and well-readable bibliography with many good suggestions. This account of the Enlightenment is among the best ever written in the twentieth century, along with Paul Hazard's European Thought in the 18th century and Ernst Cassirer's The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. I do recommend all to read both volumes of this book.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on November 25, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A magnificent, thorough, and long book (419 pages), impeccably documented, the first volume of two. A "must read" for anyone interested in the Enlightenment. The "cheerleaders" of the Enlightenment, from all over Europe, called themselves the philosophes. For a preview, read the 25 page beginning, "Overture."

BOOK ONE: THE APPEAL TO ANTIQUITY

CHAPTER ONE: The Useful and Beloved Past

1. Hebrews and Hellenes: As the philosophes of the Enlightenment saw it, the world was divided into two irreconcilable patterns of life: superstition versus the affirmation of life; mythmakers versus realists; priests versus philosophers. The historical writings of the Enlightenment were all part of their comprehensive effort to secure rational control over the world and freedom from the pervasive domination of myth. The most glaring and notorious defect of the Enlightenment was its unsympathetic, often brutal, estimate of Christianity.

2. A Congenial Sense and Spirit: Rome belonged to every educated man Classic antiquity was inescapable, therefore, some of the philosophes' seemingly pagan ideas were simply the property of thinking men in their time. The philosophes identified with their favorite ancient philosophers, especially Cicero, who had contempt for the fear of death, contempt for superstition, and admiration for sturdy pagan self-reliance. Modern historians no longer think of Christianity as a complete swamp, but the reliance of the Enlightenment on ancient classicism has withstood two centuries of criticism.

3. The Search for Paganism: From Identification to Identity: The philosophes had been born into a Christian world.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Matthieu P. Raillard VINE VOICE on February 15, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Peter Gay needs no introduction, but I still feel that this work needs to be lauded for what it manages to achieve: it provides an exhaustively detailed socio-cultural account of the enlightenment that is as enjoyable as it is informative. The main slant of this work, namely that the 18th century enlightenment was a reprisal/continuation/adoration of classical (hence Pagan) culture is coherent and functions as a solid structure to this work. Highly recommended.
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