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Inventing Human Rights: A History

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  434 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
How were human rights invented, and how does their tumultuous history influence their perception and our ability to protect them today? From Professor Lynn Hunt comes this extraordinary cultural and intellectual history, which traces the roots of human rights to the rejection of torture as a means for finding the truth. She demonstrates how ideas of human relationships por ...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published April 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2007)
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If I had written a book of non-fiction, I would have liked it to end up like this one. Lynn Hunt is a history professor, specialising in the French Revolution, which means I like her already, and the central argument of Inventing Human Rights is that the growth of certain types of novels during the Enlightenment, amongst other things, directly contributed to a different conception of "self" and personal boundaries, as well as changing how people empathised, which turned the tide of public opinio ...more
Kimba Tichenor
This book sets out to explain how the concept of human rights, i.e. rights owing simply to one's status as a human, rather than as a member of a particular political community, gained widespread currency. She traces the origins of human rights to the eighteenth-century Western Enlightenment and tries to make the argument that it emerged at this point in time because there was a fundamental change in how ordinary individuals related to one another and in how they thought -- namely they developed ...more
Joseph Stieb
This book attempts something monumental that most historians don't try to answer: What motivates people's shifts in moral perspective? How can we explain these often-rapid shifts in specific historical contexts. Specifically, Hunt tries (and mainly succeeds) in explaining why when human rights believers like Jefferson and the framer of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen said that these rights were both universal and self-evident, why did so many people believe it and act upo ...more
Aug 13, 2010 Ed rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: torture
Hunt begins by locating the rise of human rights with the rise of the novel. Eighteenth century literary culture encouraged readers to identify directly and intensely with those unlike themselves--learning to feel what was called sympathy then and is called empathy now for characters on the pages of "Clarissa", "Pamela" (Richardson) and "Julie" (Rousseau) led to the ability to identify with people in utterly different conditions than that of the reader. Individuals discovered or developed profou ...more
Sameh Maher
كتاب دسم جدا عن تطور فكرة حقوق الانسان من اول القرون الوسطى ومحاكم التفتيش الى الاعلان العالمى لحقوق الانسان عام 1948
يحتوى تحليل قوى ومنطقى لنشوء فكرة حقوق الانسان مع عرض لاهم الوثائق التاريخية التى تشرح فكرة تطور احساس الانسان بانسانيته وقدرته على الانفصال عن الجموع والتعامل على انه فرد اولا وله شخصية منفصلة
وتحلل الكاتبة الفكرة فى التعاطف فلا يمكن ان يمنح مجموعة من الناس حقوقهم الانسانية بدون ان يكون باقى المجتمع على تعاطف معهم
الحقيقة ان معلومات كثيرة جدا وشيقة جدا توجد فى هذا الكتاب الذى قد ي
Abby Doll
Feb 04, 2017 Abby Doll rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic, important, beautiful, a new favorite. Lynn Hunt does an incredible job of pulling together individuals, histories, tragedies, and artists to move us through the declarations of human rights, "The process had and has an undeniable circularity to it: you know the meaning of human rights because you feel distressed when they are violated. The truths of human rights might be paradoxical in this sense, but they are nonetheless self-evident." Let's grow together in empathy, for "The history ...more
Peter Hutt Sierra
A well written book that lacks in focus. Inventing human rights describes the role that certain cultural practices of the 18th century had forming the human rights tradition we know today.

Hunt clearly knows her stuff, but I feel that the book's focus suffers when she leaves the french revolution. Each chapter is interesting and insightful, but they fail to form an overall picture or a coherent thesis. While interesting her conclusions aren't always convincing and could benefit from some more in
Aug 10, 2007 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights (2007)
Gregory Clark, A farewell to Alms (2007)
Hunt, a UCLA historian, tries in this book to explain why 18th century western Europe was the first society in history to develop a concept of “human rights,” as opposed to the earlier idea of political and other rights enjoyed by certain individuals, such as Roman senators or King John’s barons. Her answer is that the concept developed in large part because of the invention of the novel as a literary form, earlier i
Concise and accessible, Lynn Hunt's Inventing Human Rights presents a good history of the ideas of human rights as they emerged in the Enlightenment.

I liked her first chapter best, where she focuses on Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa and Rousseau's Julie and argues that their ability to provoke strong emotions from readers (hint: not boredom) encouraged empathy from readers for people different than themselves. With the sense of the individual having emerged over the past few centuries, along w
Andrés Umaña
Nov 07, 2015 Andrés Umaña rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-of-2015
Hunt traces in this short book the history of the creation of the modern doctrine of human rights. How did human rights become "evident", natural, equal and universal in world that still has a long way to actually respecting them? The answer is given in short but interest insights, such as 1) The connection between the relaxation of our community networks, the increasing self-awareness of our bodies and the rise of the individualism that helped support the concept of "Rights of Man" during the F ...more
Dr. Nabeel Yasin, the Iraqi poet, writer, academic and politician, has chosen to discuss Lynn Hunt's Inventing Human Rights: A History , on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Democracy in Iraq, saying that:

“This book describes the struggle for human rights in Europe. For me the most important thing about this book is that is reminds the people who live in democratic states and societies about how the struggle for human rights started 500 years ago. These modern people are able to
Sep 07, 2016 Carolyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are several interesting claims in this book - the potential role of more Europeans reading epistolary novels making them more empathetic across gender/social class, etc. boundaries, for example. However, I am not convinced of the author's overall argument that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen/French Revolution is the most important precedent of our modern understandings of universal human rights. Plenty of people argue that the idea of human rights is a Western construction ...more
Lynne Williamson
Mar 07, 2010 Lynne Williamson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Inventing Human Rights" moves from the rather bizarre discussion of how "Pamela" gave everyone practice with empathy, to how that empathy led to attempts to end torture, to how Christian men were given rights, to Jews (men) being given rights, blacks (men) being given rights. Women, ...well not so much. But, the granting of rights to groups like Jews and blacks, led inevitably to bigots who were determined to find "scientific" reasons for identifying groups as "lesser." This concept of finding ...more
Dec 28, 2012 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Inventing Human Rights is, first and foremost, one of the books that proved to me that books assigned for school don't have to be dry and dense. Lynn Hunt offers a very interesting perspective on the "invention of human rights" in the context of the American and French Revolutions, and draws support from a variety of primary sources. I found her argument to be quite compelling, although I haven't done enough of my own research to justly decide whether I completely agree or not. What I enjoyed mo ...more
Huy Dang
Despite its nature as a forced reading for school, I still thoroughly enjoy its discussion on the evolution of human rights and its place in the history of mankind. It is quite controversial and fascinating an argument to make about how reading novels could increase people's empathy and bridge the gap of indifference between classes, thus contributing to the development of the rights of man. I have my belief in the power of words and this notion, albeit its shortcoming and credibility, reinforce ...more
Apr 27, 2012 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hunt does a wonderful job of putting human rights in historical perspective. Starting with the question of what the preconditions are for thinking of humans as having rights and going on to consider what it means to declare the existence of universal human rights and then to the, often ironic, consequences of having made such declarations, Hunt enriched my appreciation for the place of human rights in the world today. Yesterday Charles Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting crimes against h ...more
Absolutely awful. Entirely distorts and softens the creation of human rights and makes the excuses of emotion and empathy, as social creations, as valid reasons for the creation of human rights.
Discussing the inherent nature of human rights invalidates the concept of the existence of human rights. Inventing Human Rights is the title, in which case, the book is working against it's statement. Inventions are not inherent.
Chantelle Belic
So, here's my thing, the book pretty much accomplished what is set out to do in its title- it provides a concise introduction to as well as a pretty compelling theory for the development of human rights. The prose is also highly accessible, which is oftentimes difficult to achieve with a historical text. However, I can't help but feel as though its arguments and citations are at times simplistic and exceedingly eurocentric.
David Montgomery
A limited but informative look at the "rights revolution" in the 18th Century, when early liberals invented the concept of human rights and helped outlaw gruesome punishments and torture. The book was short but also felt a little stretched thin, like it needed an extra major point of argument to bolster its contention. I enjoyed Steven Pinker's briefer popularization of Hunt's work in "The Better Angels Of Our Nature" more.
Roy Rogers
Jun 09, 2012 Roy Rogers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a standard lynn hunt book: brilliant, insightful, sometimes exasperating, humane, wide-ranging and occasionally sloppily argued.

the first third of this book is absolutely brilliant (chapters 1 & 2) as is the final chapter (5). The middle of the book however lacks the rigor, brilliance, insight and clarity of the rest of this excellent work.

recommended for everyone - scholars, students, and general readers.
Aug 25, 2010 Lauriann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grad-school
I enjoyed a lot of the details of this book, but sometimes the big picture seemed incongruent. The first chapter set me up for a kind of fun, light social history, and then the rest of the book delves into a deeper, political and civic text. So I was a little disappointed, but I still enjoyed learning more about the advent of human rights, especially because it is such a work in progress for humanity.
Jul 04, 2008 Jon rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting but dry at times. Hunt takes an in depth look at the evolution of human rights and the impact of epistolary novels,art, and changes in the penal system that led to mans increasing self autonomy and empathy towards other humans.

To be honest I was expecting something with more of an impact.
johnny dangerously
An excellent book, though it's a bit light on substance in places, and tends to drag. I'm a big fan of Lynn Hunt, but this is not her best work. Still, it's absolutely worth the read, if only for the first chapter alone, which is stand-out. Hunt continues to bring often-overlooked aspects of the Revolution to the fore with deft tone and engaging observations.
I did not feel like I learned anything new from this book, except the role that novels and sympathy played in the human rights movement. Towards the end, I felt like I just wanted it to be over as soon as possible.
Brenna Sampaio
Aug 08, 2016 Brenna Sampaio rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Conta a história da luta pelos direitos humanos no mundo ocidental de forma cativante, adentrando no aspecto íntimo da formação desse conceito recente no pensamento humano.
Ava Anderson
An interesting and thought-provoking, if simplistic and eurocentric, explanation for the genesis of contemporary human rights. I would strongly suggest supplementing it with less narrow scholarship.
Oct 05, 2010 Marije rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must read for anyone who wants to form a more comprehensive view on the phenomenon of human rights!
Oct 29, 2008 Nicholas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great read. Interesting look at the development of human rights, and how opponents created ideas that led to such terrible things as the Holocaust.
Dec 22, 2008 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Compelling and interesting narrative. Each chapter could be its own book as there is so much packed into this short book.
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Lynn Avery Hunt is the Eugen Weber Professor of Modern European History at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her area of expertise is the French Revolution, but she is also well known for her work in European cultural history on such topics as gender. Her 2007 work, Inventing Human Rights, has been heralded as the most comprehensive analysis of the history of human rights. She served as p ...more
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