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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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The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism (Vol. 1) (Enlightenment an Interpretation) (v. 1) + The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom (Vol. 2) (Enlightenment an Interpretation) (v. 2) + The Portable Enlightenment Reader (Portable Library)
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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: 0.6 x 0.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


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

“Gay's picture of the philosophes is persuasive, put forward with profound scholarship and ease of style.” (George L. Mosse - New York Times Book Review)

About the Author

Peter Gay is 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. He lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

There is one conspicuous and paradoxical omission.
Eric W. Vogt, Ph.D., Author of The Spanish Subjunctive Up Close, Spanish Pronouns Up Close and Spanish Past Tenses Up Close
Elegantly written, in clear, crisp prose, "The Enlightenment" is a detailed and nuanced account of the men and ideas that gave us the gift - and curse - of modernity.
Jeffrey Morseburg
The Adulteration of Antiquity: In the callous hands of Christians, Greek and Roman literature survived, but barely, and at great cost.
The Spinozanator

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 96 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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44 of 45 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."


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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42 of 45 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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178 of 210 people found the following review helpful By J. C. Woods on July 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
Unlike the reformation there was no counter-enlightenment. The Church was ineffectual in mounting an offense against a movement whose claim was that she was an out-moded relic, not to be listened to in a modern, technological world. How do you fight the charge that you are irrelevant without admitting irrelevancy? How do you fight the disease without spreading it? And as Peter Gay shows, the philosophes needed no help in spreading the word. They were a brilliant collection of Scientists, Philosophers and writers spread out over the west for almost three generations. They included such luminaries as Voltaire, David Hume, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, J. J. Rousseau and so on, even to this country (we recognize two philosophes, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin on our currency). They were involved in a conspiracy (literally) to change their world. And to give you some idea how successful they were, the first generation lived in a world ruled exclusively by hereditary monarchy; the last lived to see both the French and American revolutions and the beginnings of democracy.
The philosophes taught a cheerful kind of self-reliance. Salvation was not to be found in the heavens above, but in the human race. They fought to replace barbaric institutions with new modes of thought that would inspire, not oppress, the human spirit. New modes of government (democracy). New methods of tending the sick (see Foucault's "Birth of the Clinic") and the insane (see Foucault's "Madness and Civilization"). New modes of punishing offenders (see Foucault's "Discipline and Punish"). New modes of thought.
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