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A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment Hardcover – November 2, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
In the early chapters I felt that Blom was riding his atheistic hobby horse too much and neglecting other key aspects of the salon regulars. However, this judgment turned out to be premature and wrong as the book eventually takes on many other matters.Read more ›
Here he focuses on a group of intellectuals with connections to the Paris salon of Baron Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach during the 1750-1780 period. Denis Diderot is the chief protagonist, but Holbach himself, David Hume (who attended the salon during a stay in France, though not a "radical"), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (a salon drop-out), among others, also receive considerable attention. Blom substantively covers many of their ideas, relates biographical highlights, and conveys the flavor of their personalities, ambitions, and abilities. It all meshes into a sustained narrative.
The author believes that the reputation of the Enlightenment "radicals" (Diderot especially, but also Holbach and a few others) has suffered in comparison to more moderate figures (Voltaire and Kant, notably) and to Rousseau. The falling out of Rousseau with Diderot and Hume is one of the principal sub-plots of this volume.
Blom portrays an atheistic and sensualist Diderot, inclinations that were necessarily toned down in his public writing (he had once been imprisoned for his views). He was ahead of his time in several respects, with materialist and evolutionary ideas that anticipated Darwin, a nuanced appreciation of the irrational elements of human nature, and opposition to slavery, for example. Unlike Holbach, who believed that truth was knowable based on observation and that reason could eliminate superstition and bring about a just society, Diderot remained more skeptical.
Blom credits the radical philosophes with several achievements.Read more ›
Blom's ultimate emphasis here is on the so-called "radical" Enlightenment, as opposed to the moderate Enlightenment of thinkers like Voltaire. The latter still flirted with the political status quo and entertained deism. After all, Voltaire made his fortune by loaning vast sums of money to European monarchs; it's difficult to rock the boat of ideas when your financial security depends on it. Those of the radical Enlightenment were not afraid to take reason, science, and materialism to its ultimate limits: there are many of them, but the major figures include Baron Holbach, Diderot, d'Alembert, Buffon, Grimm, and Hume. One figure he decidedly excludes from his radical favorites is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, choosing to portray him, rightly or wrongly, as a paranoid megalomanic.
After giving some initial biographical information of the characters that loom the largest in the book - Diderot, Holbach, and Rousseau - we proceed to learn more about their thought and their circle of what are usually considered more minor friends. Blom intermittently keeps referring back to Holbach's twice-weekly dinners that would often be attended some of the greatest minds in Europe.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A history of the fragile birth of freedom and its flag-bearer Diderot.
Well written, engaging and important.
Good overview of the period of time and the differences between groups of enlightened scientists. Very focused on France but some information is given on The Netherlands and the... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Alois Clemens
This is a book about French Enlightenment thinkers in the circle of Holbach and Diderot. The Introduction makes it clear that Blom is on the side of these clear-headed atheists... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Ralph Blumenau
Outstanding! This is an extremely well written, engaging and fascinating education on the true radicals of the enlightenment period. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Richard Emery
Wish more of the religious fanatics can take in the tenets of this knowledge base.Published on July 26, 2014 by Jimin Ma
Phillip Blom presents an examination of the major players and contributors of the examination of the beginnings of more enlightened thinking in Paris at that time. Read morePublished on June 28, 2014 by Virginia La Brie
Although there are many repetitions, I found the topic and its exposition exhilarating.. A fascinating hinge of European intellectual history with ramifications that still... Read morePublished on June 11, 2014 by Sylvie Hirschl
Well written, extremely informative, with great relevance for today's discussions about these themes, very much recommended to lay readers and academics across the board.Published on September 5, 2013 by F. Spier