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The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  326 ratings  ·  50 reviews
One of our most renowned and brilliant historians takes a fresh look at the revolutionary intellectual movement that laid the foundation for the modern world.
Liberty and equality. Human rights. Freedom of thought and expression. Belief in reason and progress. The value of scientific inquiry. These are just some of the ideas that were conceived and developed during the E
ebook, 528 pages
Published April 23rd 2013 by Random House (first published January 1st 2002)
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Bryan Alkire
Jul 09, 2020 rated it did not like it
Bad book. I enjoy reading about the 18th century ideas and was looking forward to this one. I was rudely disappointed. The author can’t write, simple as that. The writing was so diffuse and muddled that I can’t even explain what the book was about. Basically, a bunch of philosophers and their ideas badly explained. The ideas in the chapters would have been interesting if they had been better written and clearer. Instead, this book turned into a nightmare that I dreaded to open and read. At least ...more
Lauren Albert
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A great introduction to the thinkers (and ideas) of the Enlightenment that manages not to oversimplify or caricature them and to show how others have (and do).

So, what is worth saving?:

“But our ability even to frame our understanding of the world in terms of something larger than our own small patch of ground, our own culture, family, or religion, clearly does (connect to Enlightenment ideals]. And in that, we are all, inescapably, the heirs of the architects of the Enlightenment ‘science of ma
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
I got an early copy through NetGalley and have been reading it over the last week. Pagden is a professor of political science and history at UCLA, and that crossing of disciplines is manifest in the book. But the real emphasis is on political science. There are some good anecdotes, but the bulk is a lively discussion of political theory.

The introduction makes a compelling point that the Enlightenment's more vocal critics (the Romantics, Horkheimer and Adorno, Alistair MacIntyre) are only seeing
Jul 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Enlightening...but harder work than it need have been...

Like most people, I have a vague idea of what is meant by Enlightenment values – scepticism, reason, science etc. – and could probably name, if pushed, a few of the intellectuals and philosophers associated with it. I hoped this book might give me a clearer idea of the history and development of the period and of the contribution of some of the main players. And to a degree it did. Pagden concentrates very much on the intellectual developme
Benjamin Hare
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
This book deserves multiple readings. I’m shocked at how much fun it was to read, but there is so much information in such a small space that I’m a bit overwhelmed. Pagden’s central thesis is for the continued value of the enlightenment by showing how critical it was in throwing off our reliance on religious dogma, freeing us to think beyond the accepted boundaries. Tied up in all this is the movement toward a truly secular understanding of human rights, and government. Multi-culturalism—that id ...more
I tried - I really did. But the writing was so horrendous, I couldn't read more than a paragraph without my eyes crossing. Entire pages had to be read several times over to even follow where a sentence led, much less where it finally ended up. I really wanted to get through it, but I couldn't make it more than two chapters. ...more
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
Sorry to disagree with most of the other reviews, but I found this book unreadable. I gave it 2 stars instead of the 1 I think it deserves, since the author packed it with an excessive amount of detail. But the end result was a book extremely boring and dry to read. Each page is full of philosophers so it was impossible to keep them separate. Some examples at random:

Page 29 mentions Grotius, Spinosa, Malebranche, Bayle, D'Alembert.

Page 39 mentions Pomponazzi, Aristotle, Averroes, St. Augustine,
Matt McCormick
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Professor Anthony Pagden’s, The Enlightenment And Why It Still Matters provided me a new perspective on an important period in intellectual development. He focuses on how the the critical thinkers of that period helped to develop the concept of cosmopolitianism – the idea that humanity could evolve to a place, “ that would one day lead to the creation of a universal civilization capable of making all indiviuals independent, autonomous, freed of dictates from above and below, self-knowing, and de ...more
Nicki Markus
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-non-fiction
I was looking forward to this book, but unfortunately, my hopes were not rewarded.

I've read a few really engaging non-fiction history books lately and I hoped this would be of the same ilk, especially since the Enlightenment is a period that does interest me.

However, for the most part, this book was dry - really dry. There'd be passages that were interesting and which would pull my attention back, but the rest was very heavy going and felt like a lecture.

I would not recommend this book for the
Tim Robinson
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
I hoped this would be a book about Enlightenment *government*, involving human rights, freedom of speech, fair trials, honest and efficient administration and improving the lot of the the poor. Kaunitz, the birth of the USA, stuff like that. But no. It's a mere philosophy book. ...more
Joseph Stieb
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting if somewhat disorganized look at the Enlightenment. Pagden covers a lot of the normal ground, proceeding thematically rather than trying to cover each major thinker as a unit. He's also big on the Enlightenment as a conversation, a debate over essential questions of politics, morality, religion, epistemology, etc. He has a really clear explanation of how the Enlightenment challenged and largely overthrew a medieval system of thought based in scholasticism and natural law thinking. ...more
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
I wrote a scathing and harsh review on this book. Perhaps I should have been more nuanced in my review, and perhaps I should evaluate (and value) the book a little bit more for what it is - rather than what it isn't. So let me try to come up with a more thoughtful response (for the original review see below).

Anthony Pagden tries to explain what the Enlightenment was (and what it wasn't). He does this by zooming in on particular events, stories and persons from (mainly) the eighteenth century. Al
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The book it's not a book on the history or the philosophy of the enlightenment age, but, rather, a chronicle on how they thought about thinking about science and the science of man.

He characterizes the Enlightenment by it's "dynamic and cosmopolitan" approach to thinking. The dynamic approach rejected knowledge based only on tradition, authority, revelation, or pretending to know things that weren't really known, and the cosmopolitan approach made the thinkers base there beliefs on logic, empiri
Jun 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Pagden's book "The Enlightenment" is intellectual history, rather than the history of politicians, scientists, or merchants. And that's OK, since the Enlightenment started with and was driven by thinkers and writers. Because people today, wherever they live, are all children of this watershed movement in human thought, we need to know who those people were, what arguments they had with each other and with their opponents, how they influenced their societies, how they still influence society toda ...more
Andreas Haraldstad
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
I picked this book up on Audible as I was delving into the Enlightenment for a project. In general, this book was a disappointment, but that might possibly be attributed to the medium of audiobooks, and not the book itself. What I looked for was a simple and general narrative of the Enlightenment, focusing on the most famous thinkers, ideas and underlying tendencies. Previously I had mostly delved into the period through references in other books and through more specific periods, people and ana ...more
Angie Boyter
Feb 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
I faithfully read all the books selected for my book groups in their entirety, but I made an exception for this boring, pedantic book.
Do you know what role Jean-Paul Marat played in the Enlightenment? If you do, you may enjoy this book. If you do NOT know of Marat or if, like me, you associate him with the Marquis de Sade (and that is all you know about him), then you probably will find it rather infuriating. Author Pagden mentions Marat for the very first time on page 319, where he writes, "Vo
Xinghe Li
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a decent overview of the main threads of thoughts of the Enlightenment men of letters. This is not a compendium of European thoughts of the 18th century Europe, but it traces the thread of thoughts of the Enlightenment, citing this or that author here and there.

That being said, the read can be boring for people who are not that interested in intellectual history. This is NOT a political theory book, but a history book.
Ted Morgan
Sep 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I will continue referring to this excellent work. It is rich and wise.
Feb 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people quite interested in the political philosophy part
Recommended to Lord_Humungus by: Steven Pinker
Review in English (not my mother tongue) and Spanish (below)

This book analyzes the intellectual history of the Enlightenment. It is not ordered chronologically, nor does it narrate too many things about the life of the enlightened philosophers. It is divided by themes:

All coherence gone: the intellectual shocks caused by Protestantism, the Wars of Religion, the discovery of America, the Scientific Revolution, etc.
Bringing pity back in: defense of Reason, yes; but also of sympa
Nut Meg
Though excellent in many ways, this is not a book for the casual reader. The title may give the impression that it is a concise, perhaps even layman-friendly, history, making an argument for its relevance in the modern world. In fact, it is a highly erudite, and often exhausting exploration of the Enlightenment period's development and values, with little effort to make connections to the present except to emphatically state that those values remain and are to a degree foundational in Western so ...more
The book does a very good job in summarizing what in short the Enlightenment movement (or movements) and its people were all about. But because of this period stretches from roughly 1650 till 1800 the book comes across as rather dense. The author obviously wanted to cram as many ideas in it as possible and that is perhaps also then the most regretful part as this period contain way too much interesting idea, people, concepts and events to discuss it in mere 500 pages. I think to that end the mai ...more
Aug 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here’s to hoping the enlightenment isn’t over...

I am not new to reading of the enlightenment. But before this book my impression was limited to the dismantling of the dogma of religion, the Rise of liberal democracy and the elements surrounding the French and American revolution. This book has taken me beyond those important ideas and uncovered the origins of the patria. The idea of patriotism. The roots of community thinking. Somehow the focus on understanding the core of human nature in civili
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very scholarly work addressing one of the key eras of Western civilization, along with the earlier scientific revolution, reformation, and discovery of the New World. The first part of the book is a nice review of the key thinkers who helped break the intellectual strangle-hold of scholastic and religious authority over rational thought. This movement championed reason over dogma and empowered the notions of individual liberty, freedom and equality along with the rise of capitalism. He ...more
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was published in 2013, and it would be interesting to get Professor Pagden to do an update on this book in the light of Trump's election and the assault on the Enlightenment by right wing ideologues such as Steve Bannon and the new European leaders.
Also, as I was reading the book, particularly chapter 7, I kept on thinking about Teresa May's quote about cosmopolitanism:
“If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship m
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent overview, with an interpretation that anticipates current developments with Trump/Brexit. Supports those who think that the significance of the 1789 French Revolution is "too early to say". ...more
Nick Harriss
Feb 26, 2021 rated it liked it
While interesting in parts, there was far too much for my liking of "this philosopher said this" and "this writer wrote this", and too little on the impact of the enlightenment on politics and society at the time. ...more
Emily Ignatius
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
Tries to be a balanced look at the Enlightenment but goes off on too many tangents and ends up concluding the Enlightenment is great by misrepresenting its critics.
Praveen Kishore
An interesting and engaging writing, with lucid explanations and good storytelling. A good book for an overview and a survey.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book because it reads like a history of philosophy of the Enlightenment era, before and during. Halfway it becomes more of a book about governance and the political theories behind it.

What made it so readable was the fact that Pagden did not show off his extensive vocabulary of unusual and archaic words. He also did not try to show off how well-read he is, despite the fact that he is.

The way that Pagden organized his arguments using support from one writer of the Enlighte
So Hakim
Aug 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Instead of strictly philosophical, this is a historical account on the rise (and subsequent influence) of the Enlightenment. Interestingly, while the title is indicative of how the author sees his subject -- that Enlightenment is important -- he doesn't pull punches with his criticism of it.

That said, Pagden wasn't out to write polemics. As he himself wrote:

This book is not intended to be a political tract, nor a moral homily. It is a work of history, an attempt, to borrow the words of the
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Anthony Pagden was educated in Santiago (Chile), London, Barcelona and Oxford and holds a B.A.. M.A. and D.Phil. from the University of Oxford. He has been a free-lance translator and a publisher in Paris a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, Senior Research Fellow of the Warburg Institute (London), Professor of History at the European University Institute (Florence), University Reader in Intellectu ...more

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