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Rousseau's Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment First Edition Edition

3.1 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060744908
ISBN-10: 0060744901
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1766, Scottish philosopher David Hume helped the radical Swiss intellectual Jean-Jacques Rousseau find asylum in England; a few months later, the volatile philosopher accused his benefactor of masterminding a murky conspiracy against him and triggered a virulent response. The argument had nothing to do with philosophy (or Rousseau's dog), but, as in their well-received Wittgenstein's Poker, the authors use the dispute as a pretext for an engaging rundown of the two thinkers' great ideas—with a big swig of human interest to wash down the philosophical morsels. Their (sometimes excessively) detailed, meandering account of the feud points to something larger: the contrast between the affable, urbane rationalist Hume and the moody, paranoid, emotionally overwrought Rousseau prefigures, they believe, the shift from the Enlightenment cult of reason to the Romantic cult of feeling. The authors widen their vivid portraits of the antagonists into a panorama of the cross-Channel intellectual community that refereed the squabble, taking in the ancien régime salons and their brilliant hostesses and the London and Paris streets where visiting philosophers were mobbed like rock stars. The result is an absorbing cultural history of the republic of letters in its exuberant youth. (Mar.)
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“A detailed and fascinating reexamination of this story by David Edmonds and John Eidinow.” (New York Review of Books)

“Sprightly and accessible . . . David Edmonds and John Eidinow have heightened intellectual feuds beyond the shallows of anecdote.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“As we’ve come to expect from Edmunds and Eidinow, their analysis of the personalities in question is sharp and engaging.” (Los Angeles Times)

“An enthralling account of a trifling provocation inflated to epic proportions.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (March 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060744901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060744908
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,243,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The authors have earned fame for a hugely successful earlier book, Wittgenstein's Poker, in which a poker played a symbolical part in the dispute between Wittgenstein and Popper. Rousseau's dog Sultan plays no such part in this book about the antagonism that developed between Rousseau and Hume. Only on the penultimate page is there a single paragraph in which the authors comment on the unconditional love between man and dog that was the yardstick by which Rousseau judged all other friendships and to which none of his other friendships could live up. But the title might also have another explanation: two or three times in the text the authors have invented another "dog". The philosopher Grimm had written about the "companion who will not suffer him [Rousseau] to rest in peace", meaning the paranoid personality which he thought was Rousseau's alter ego. Grimm does not describe this alter ego as a dog, but the authors see it as one, doubtlessly having in mind that Winston Churchill had called his own depression his Black Dog.

When Rousseau was being driven from one place to another on the continent because of the authorities there objected to his writings, David Hume, then serving at the British Embassy in Paris, had invited Rousseau to seek asylum in England, had brought him over in 1766, and intended to help him there in any way he could. Unfortunately Rousseau was by that time a florid paranoiac. Both in France and in England woundingly satirical but anonymous writings were circulating about him, and Rousseau suspected that the kindly Hume had had a hand in them and was plotting with his enemies against him.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved Wittgenstein's Poker, and I was not disappointed with Rousseau's Dog. David Edmonds and John Eidinow write in the same witty and intelligent style, leaving just enough unsaid to stimulate your own thought and understanding (this subtle art of understatement has been sorely lacking lately). Reading the book I could freely engage in the discussion and create my own opinions about the events, I felt respected by the authors, and I thank them for that.

The book describes in great detail the infamous personal conflict between David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. As you can expect now from David Edmonds and John Eidinow, there is much more: not only the portraits of both protagonists are colorful and compelling, but the conflict itself serves as a central theme for a vivid account of the very interesting time in European history. The authors used letters and newspaper articles of the time to re-create an engaging picture of the cultural atmosphere in Europe in 1760's. One of the most intriguing discoveries for me was the fact that, on a human level, we may understand a lot more about XVIII century than about our time because in the past people regularly wrote letters discussing not only the events of the day, but their feelings. Unfortunately, we have lost the sense of importance of our lives (funny as it is, but Jean-Jacques, this great trivializer, may be the one to blame for it).

Rousseau's Dog is well-edited and carefully published. At the end of the book you find Chronology of Main Events, Dramatis Personae (a paragraph-long description of about fifty main characters and historical figures mentioned in the text), Selected Bibliography, and Index. Rousseau's Dog is not for everyone, but if you are interested in history of ideas and amused by psychological investigations, this is a book for you.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read several accounts of the Hume-Rousseau events, but this is the only one that I have read that attacks Hume with so little regard for the truth or for justice.

Edmonds and Eidinow have done a great job of spinning Hume's kindness into something quite the opposite, but even they admit:

1) Hume, having never met Rousseau, agrees to help Rousseau seek asylum in Britain (as Rousseau had warrants out for his arrest in France, Geneva, and Bern).

2) Hume tries to find accommodations for the picky Rousseau; eventually, a friend of Hume's provides a home for Rousseau that meets all of Rousseau's requirements.

3) Hume tries to get Rousseau an income from the King of England.

4) Rousseau, after safely in England, falsely accuses Hume, his benefactor, of plotting against him. This accusation is without any real evidence of any kind. Hume, understandably, is surprised and upset that his kindness has met with such a reaction.

5) Hume still wants his friend to provide a home for Rousseau, even though Rousseau has been monumentally ungrateful and unjust to Hume.

6) Hume still tries to get an income for Rousseau from the King of England.

7) When Rousseau departs from the safety of England, Hume tries to have mutual friends and acquaintances in France protect Rousseau from arrest.

Notice, 5, 6, and 7 all occur AFTER Rousseau's unjust and unprovoked attack on Hume, and Hume still was trying to help the ungrateful and unjust Rousseau. Many lesser men would have washed their hands of the ungrateful swine, and done nothing for him ever after, but not the kindly Hume.
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