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The Enlightenment Paperback – February 8, 1991
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Mr. Hampson must be given credit for his modesty. The introduction does relieve some of the tensions and address any apprehensions a reader might have when picking up a book like this. It seems to say "don't worry, I'm not intentionally going to make this book difficult. I'll try my hardest to keep it light." To some extent, Hampson succeeds. Norman Hampson's purpose for writing his book was to promote the reading of the primary historical texts on which it is based. It was not intended to be the end-all-be-all Enlightenment survey, but in fact an advertisement for books written during the period. Promoting primary sources is a noble purpose, but one that leaves the reader wondering why it takes 300 pages to generate such enthusiasm. This being established as the purpose, it now must be asked if Hampson accomplished his goal. The reader will not be impressed by his style, which is bad, or his attempt at wit, which is worse. The pages are filled with abstruse paragraphs, and archaic language. It is questionable whether, after finishing The Enlightenment, a reader is likely to run for the primary sources.Read more ›
The book is divided into two sections: 1715 - 1740 and 1740 - 1789. The first half looks at the effects of the Scientific Revolution on European thought with specific attention given to Locke, Newton, Montesquieu and Voltaire; the second half examines Linneaus, Rousseau, Diderot, Smith and Kant. His summary and observations of these intellecutals is excellent - which, of course makes it difficult to convince readers to tackle their work first-hand.
It is not light reading, geared probably towards the serious student of history. But is is worthwhile, and it may in fact whet the reader's appetite for more.
At the end of the book, the author presents some adversaries of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. He simply calls Joseph de Maistre "mentally ill" (p.264), and don't take any of these persons serious. By reading this book, you will pass some hard time for reading a book that doesn't help you to understand the Enlightenment, nor the context.
Don't spill your money for this book. This work of Hampson hasn't any scientific value. I recommend all the works of Isaiah Berlin instead.