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Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely
by Andrew S. Curran




Overview -
Best Book of the Year - Kirkus Reviews

A spirited biography of the prophetic and sympathetic philosopher who helped build the foundations of the modern world.

Denis Diderot is often associated with the decades-long battle to bring the world's first comprehensive Encyclop die into existence. But his most daring writing took place in the shadows. Thrown into prison for his atheism in 1749, Diderot decided to reserve his best books for posterity-for us, in fact. In the astonishing cache of unpublished writings left behind after his death, Diderot challenged virtually all of his century's accepted truths, from the sanctity of monarchy, to the racial justification of the slave trade, to the norms of human sexuality. One of Diderot's most attentive readers during his lifetime was Catherine the Great, who not only supported him financially, but invited him to St. Petersburg to talk about the possibility of democratizing the Russian empire.

In this thematically organized biography, Andrew S. Curran vividly describes Diderot's tormented relationship with Rousseau, his curious correspondence with Voltaire, his passionate affairs, and his often iconoclastic stands on art, theater, morality, politics, and religion. But what this book brings out most brilliantly is how the writer's personal turmoil was an essential part of his genius and his ability to flout taboos, dogma, and convention.

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More About Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely by Andrew S. Curran

 
 
 

Overview

Best Book of the Year - Kirkus Reviews

A spirited biography of the prophetic and sympathetic philosopher who helped build the foundations of the modern world.

Denis Diderot is often associated with the decades-long battle to bring the world's first comprehensive Encyclop die into existence. But his most daring writing took place in the shadows. Thrown into prison for his atheism in 1749, Diderot decided to reserve his best books for posterity-for us, in fact. In the astonishing cache of unpublished writings left behind after his death, Diderot challenged virtually all of his century's accepted truths, from the sanctity of monarchy, to the racial justification of the slave trade, to the norms of human sexuality. One of Diderot's most attentive readers during his lifetime was Catherine the Great, who not only supported him financially, but invited him to St. Petersburg to talk about the possibility of democratizing the Russian empire.

In this thematically organized biography, Andrew S. Curran vividly describes Diderot's tormented relationship with Rousseau, his curious correspondence with Voltaire, his passionate affairs, and his often iconoclastic stands on art, theater, morality, politics, and religion. But what this book brings out most brilliantly is how the writer's personal turmoil was an essential part of his genius and his ability to flout taboos, dogma, and convention.


This item is Non-Returnable.

 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590516706
  • ISBN-10: 1590516702
  • Publisher: Other Press (NY)
  • Publish Date: January 2019
  • Page Count: 528
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.67 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely

The ambitious effort to publish the world’s most comprehensive encyclopedia was completed in the late 18th century with the Encyclopédie, which clocked in at 35 volumes. Its creators sought, in the midst of severe censorship by the French government and much controversy, not only to educate but also to raise questions about the established orders of knowledge, including the monarchy, the institution of slavery and religious belief. The Encyclopédie is now considered the supreme achievement of the French Enlightenment. It was an instant bestseller and was influential throughout Europe and beyond.

Denis Diderot was the lead editor and contributor of the encyclopedia project from 1745 to 1772. However, he considered the project to be the most thankless chore of his life. He neglected his family, his health and his literary ambitions in the process of creating the Encyclopédie. But during the last third of his life, Diderot produced an astonishing range of work. His unedited books of essays, the last cache of which was made public only in 1948, greatly surpassed what he published in his lifetime.

Wesleyan University professor Andrew S. Curran details the life of this extraordinary man—who played the role of philosopher, playwright and novelist, among others—in his absorbing Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely. In his mid-30s, before he began work on what was to become his best-known achievement, Diderot was imprisoned for heretical writings and branded as one of the most dangerous evangelists of freethinking and atheism in France. Upon his release from prison, he promised to never again personally publish heretical works. He kept that promise, but his work on the Encyclopédie allowed him to challenge conventional thinking in other ways. Curran notes Diderot’s once-close relationship with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and their dramatic break, as well as Diderot’s contact with Voltaire, who both admired and distrusted him. The most surprising of his admirers was Catherine the Great, who gave him substantial financial support and hosted him in St. Petersburg, although she was not interested in bringing Diderot’s democratic ideal to Russia. In this extremely well-written biography, Curran vividly portrays Diderot as a brilliant man filled with contradictions and passions who acted as a central figure in the advancement of intellectual freedom.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 

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