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The Portable Enlightenment Reader (Portable Library)

21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0140245660
ISBN-10: 0140245669
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Isaac Kramnick was born in 1938 and educated at Harvard University, where he received a B.A. degree in 1959 and a Ph.D. in 1965, and at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He has taught at Harvard, Brandeis, Yale and Cornell, where he is now Professor of Government. He is married to Miriam Brody Kramnick and lives in Ithaca, New York. Among his publications are Bolingbroke and His Circle, The Rage of Edmund Burke and numerous articles on eighteenth century topics. He has edited William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, The Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay and, with Michael Foot, The Thomas Paine Reader for the Penguin Classics. Most recently he is the author, with Barry Sheerman, MP, of Laski: A Lift on the Left.

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Product Details

  • Series: Portable Library
  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (December 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140245669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140245660
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.2 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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79 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on July 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
The eighteenth century Enlightenment is one of the most interesting and exciting periods of intellectual history. The thinkers of that age had a sizable impact on concepts of science, nature, politics, religion and society. How do we become immersed in the wealth of writing of that period, however, without giving up job and family in order to read the works of the Enlightenment authors?
This reader is an excellent book for novices and experienced readers alike. It is an excellent 600+ page book filled with short, pithy excerpts from the key thinkers of the period. Actually the writings go back as far as 1620 with an excerpt from Francis Bacon where he puts down the Greek philosophers and introduces what is to become the scientific method. Beccaria comes up with novel thinking on crime and punishment. Does the death penalty deter crime? How about the punishment fitting the crime instead of being meted out at the whim of some aristocrat?
Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau and Paine weigh in with their political philosophy. The skeptics speak up with their religious criticisms. Manners, morals, art, war, and gender and race issues are all discussed by the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft, David Hume, Reynolds, Pope, and Bentham.
Bite sized as these entries are, they give the flavor of Enlightenment thought. And, importantly for the general reader, they are all mentally digestible. You don't have to read every paragraph six times in order to get a glimmer of the authors' meanings. The represented authors are not just from France either. The best thinkers from France, Italy, Germany, the United States and Great Britain are represented.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Stan Vernooy on February 28, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
More than forty years ago, when I was a college undergraduate, I ran across several lists books that were recommended reading for anyone who wanted to be truly educated. Those lists invariably included books such as Rousseau's "The Social Contract," The Federalist Papers, Voltaire's "Candide," and many other writings from the Enlightenment era (as well, of course, as other time periods). I dutifully noted the titles, and, wanting to consider myself an educated person, fully intended to read all of them.

Well now I'm 62, and it's time for me to admit that I'm almost certainly never going to read "The Social Contract." This volume is for me and others like me, who are suffering from the "So Many Books, So Little Time" syndrome. The book contains a broad selection of writings from the major thinkers of the Enlightenment, which the editor defines roughly from the 1680's to the 1790's.

What a marvelous time it must have been to be an intellectual! The barriers erected by the authority of the kings, priests, and classical writers were being shattered. The ability to ask new questions and propose new answers produced an almost intoxicating sense of infinite possibilities for the improvement - even the perfection - of human society.

Some of the pieces in this book will seem hopelessly naive to our modern cynical minds; on the other hand, some of the points being made so excitedly and even belligerently are now taken for granted - and we are likely to read them and say, "What's the big deal? Everyone knows that." And then there are the debates about the most fundamental questions - such as the source of knowledge - that have yet to be resolved, and probably never will be.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Marc Riese on May 20, 2012
Format: Paperback
Editor Isaac Kramnick describes the Enlightenment as "an age when intellectuals eagerly wrote for the wider audience of new readers, not yet having become alienated from the philistine public in a posture of romantic weariness." This book offers many of the most influential Enlightenment texts. It is a pleasure to read the earnest, excited, hopeful and well-intended thoughts the Enlightenment directly from their original source. The book has substantial drawbacks, but it is well worth reading.

First a look at the positive. Most of the writings selected in this book are important, and editor Isaac Kramnick's introduction is insightful, albeit with a narrow focus (more on that below). The selections are grouped non-chronologically by theme and include on average four-page citations from the more influential writings of a given author, allowing the reader to get some feeling for the author without having to read the entirety of the original sources. Kramnick starts each selection with two sentences about its origin, date and significance. The original texts are probably all available free on the internet, but then the reader would have to find the juicy bits by him or herself, so it would be much more work to get an overview.

The selections of materials offer much to learn. The reader comes directly to the text where John Locke calls for the separation of Church and State or where Adam Smith invokes the invisible hand. It is fascinating to read seminal texts, such as Kant's reasoning leading to his categorical imperative.
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