While I might quibble a bit with the chronological boundaries set by the editors of this text, it nonetheless incorporates the majority of the Enlightenment period in the selection of writings. The Enlightenment is primarily the post-Renaissance philosophical period around the eighteenth century, where reason and individualism in the various intellectual disciplines surpassed tradition as primary factors. Key figures in the Enlightenment strand of philosophy include Newton, Locke, Leibniz, Voltaire, Hume, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Diderot, Pope, Gibbon, Adam Smith, Bentham and Kant. Various artistic, literary, philosophical, and political movements that began in the Enlightenment are still primary factors in the world today. For example, the economic and political frameworks of the American Revolution and the French Revolution came out of this movement. Scientific and mathematical principles established during this period still remain powerful methodological tools in current practice.
Editors Paul Hyland, Olga Gomez and Francesca Greensides each bring a background of liberal arts, history and cultural studies to bear the task of developing this superb collection of readings and essays on the Enlightenment. The texts themselves come from as original of sources as were available -- the editors did not try to 'clean up' the language or standardise too much, but did do editorial changes to reduce awkwardness in punctuation, capitalisation and such. Most of these selections come from authoritative eighteenth century editions or translations.
Each section of sources is tied to a particular subject or theme; each section is introduced by a brief essay discussing the importance of the subject or theme to the overall context of the Enlightenment. For example, the very first subject section is on Human Nature -- given the importance of the rise of individualism as a key concept regarding human nature for the Enlightenment mindset, this is a good place to start. Alexander Pope is quoted as an Enlightenment champion for saying 'the proper study of mankind is man', in other words, the movement was away from theological ideas concerned more with a distance and unchanging/immutable God and more toward the human condition.
There are thirteen sections of sources, which include the following topics: Human nature; the search for knowledge; religion and belief; the natural world; science and invention; political rights and responsibilities; civil society; moral principles; gender and society; art, architecture and nature; Europeans and the wider world; radicalism and revolution; and a few autobiographical pieces (Rousseau, Franklin, and Madame de Roland). Within each of these sections are a selection of sources from the major writers, artists and other figures of the period, sources that had the greatest impact -- for example, under the topic of political rights and responsibilities is included passages from Locke and Montesquieu, as well as sources from political leaders Catherine II and Frederick II. Each author is introduced with a brief biographical sketch and contextual information; occasionally the editors insert more material to put the source selection in proper perspective.
The second part of the book (actually only one-tenth of the page number of the book) is a reader of various essays from modern writers such as Jurgen Habermas, Peter Gay, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Michel Foucault on different aspects of the Enlightenment, looking at it both as a piece of history and as a continuing force to be dealt with in modern times. The third part is a brief chronology, highlighting key events, publications, artistic accomplishments, political situations and more. Primary sources for further study are highlighted in this chronological listing.
The further readings listings are extensive and well organised according to general works, primary and secondary sources, national contexts, works from particular writers, and finally the chapter topics. The index is extremely well done and useful, an important piece in a large academic text such as this.
No sourcebook on a period such as the Enlightenment can ever be complete. I have several shelves of books from writers from this period of history; of course this could not be incorporated in a single volume. However, what the editors have done is a splendid job of selecting the most interesting, most insightful, most influential pieces from this period, and set the stage for a broad understanding of the Enlightenment, as well as (hopefully) stimulus for further research.