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History and the Enlightenment Hardcover – June 29, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Trevor-Roper earned high praise for scholastic chops and stylistic felicity in such books as Europe's Physician (published posthumously). Unfortunately, the cramped confines of this collection prove to be an insufficient outlet for his gifts. Focusing on the historiography of the Enlightenment, a subject which Trevor-Roper had largely abandoned by the '70s, the essays here trace the rise and fall of the "philosophic" historians, who were interested in presenting the past as more than just a series of tableaux. Trevor-Roper evidently shared their perspective and his essays initially evoke the excitement of this revolution in thought. But repetition soon sets in. Fine essays on Conyers Middleton, a heretical and professionally frustrated Enlightenment academic, and the influence of Romantic literature, particularly that of Sir Walter Scott, whose novels were "being read all over Europe" at the time, only serve to make the surrounding dullness more evident. Few will find a full reading necessary or pleasurable, but as a window into Trevor-Roper's thoughts on a heady intellectual epoch it should find enduring usefulness.
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Praise for Hugh Trevor-Roper’s The Invention of Scotland
“[An] indispensable book.”—Andrew O’Hagan, New York Review of Books
(Andrew O’Hagan New York Review of Books)

"In every way, this is a wonderfully intelligent and civilized book."--Michael Dirda, Washington Post
(Michael Dirda Washington Post)

"The pleasure afforded by these essays arises from their elegant and felicitous prose, spiced with acerbic asides."--The New York Review of Books
(New York Review of Books)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300139349
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300139341
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,196,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Michael S. McGill on September 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a superb book. The editor has assembled a carefully crafted collection of pieces that, brick by brick, make the author's case for his perspective on Enlightenment history. And the author, of course, has provided the essays themselves, written with elegance, maturity, and wisdom. Each chapter takes a piece of the puzzle, whether it deals with the Enlightenment in Scotland, or change and ferment in religious orthodoxy, or a willingness by early historians of the period to break from a deductive, religious causality, or the different approaches to history in various European countries, and gradually builds the case for the profound change in writing history that occurred in 18th century Great Britain. For an American, the author's analysis has the added appeal of putting in perspective the intellectual milieu that existed at the time our Founders were formulating their views on independence from Great Britain and how a new nation should govern itself.
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This collection of essays by the late Hugh Trevor-Roper, who died in 2003, is particularly welcome given the recent publication of Adam Sisman's fine biography of Trevor-Roper (also reviewed on Amazon). As Sisman explains, T-R was looked down a bit, despite his fine accomplishments, because he never published the "big book" that was expected. But as Sisman also explains, and this collection demonstrates, T-R more than made up for this shortcoming, if that is what it was, by publishing scads of wonderful essays which established his reputation as the finest historical essayist of the 20th century. T-R's unique mastery of this form of historical writing is much evident in this collection, edited by John Robertson of St. Hugh's College, Oxford.

Robertson's "Editor's Introduction," puts the various essays to follow into a helpful context, especially for those who are not familiar with T-R and his interests. Robertson has also taken much care with the essays' notes, supplementing some and adding references where none was published with the essay. In his appendix, "A Guide to Later Scholarship," he discusses some more recent work that pertains to T-R's topics. This update is very helpful because the essays were published mainly in the 1960's, 1980's, with the most recent being published in 1997.

The essays themselves, all tied somehow to the enlightenment and the writing of history, reflect some of T-R's most central interests. For example, there are three perceptive essays on Edward Gibbon, long a T-R favorite. I came to a much better understanding of why Gibbon is so important, both to the discipline of history, as well as to our substantive knowledge.
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This collection of miscellanea from Hugh Trevor-Roper's oeuvre gathers together assorted articles that have not been issued in a single volume before. Far from being a scrappy omnium gatherum, the book has a theme: the Enlightenment. However, in one respect this is a stretch, since the last four articles deal with the Romantic Movement, Macaulay, Carlyle, and Burckhardt, hardly epigones of the Enlightenment. Nevertheless, the bulk of the articles do touch on Enlightenment figures, such as Gibbon, Giannone, and Hume. .
Trevor-Roper is at his best in short pieces, and previous collections, such as 'Historical Essays" and "Renaissance Essay", show him at his insightful best, witty and wise. In the book under review the touch is less popular and more academic. His editor, John Robertson, has even provided more detailed footnotes than Trevor-Roper had originally.. (Oddly, for all his work, Robertson is not even listed on the title page as editor.).
If the title "History and the Enlightenment" is a bit heavy-handed, the contents are less ponderous. Trevor-Roper's breezy style is open to every reader, He reminds us chiefly of David Hume, whose clever and readable history of England, Trevor-Roper praises warmly.in the essay "David Hume, Historian," almost the last word on the philosopher's English history. A valuable essay is that of the little-known Italian Enlightenment historian, Pietro Giannone, who deserves to be better known. Trevor-Roper calls him "the real founder, and indeed protomartyr,of the 'civil history' of the Enlightenment.' Along with Vico, Giannone blazed a trail for Italian historians to follow, but for this he was persecuted, while Vico was praised.
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