Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely

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I’d heard the name often. So and so read him during their formative years, or he’d be name-checked on this show or in that movie. But for all of this, pretty much all I knew about Denis Diderot was that he wrote an encyclopedia.

But according to this new book, the author of the infamous Encyclopédie was also a “notorious atheist,” the favorite writer of Karl Marx, and the hero of the nineteenth-century avant-garde. Diderot is also, we are told, the “most relevant of Enlightenment philosophers.”

The man never published most of his writing, hoping instead that “we, the sympathetic and enlightened interlocutors of the future, might finally be capable of sitting in judgment of his hidden writings.” Are we those enlightened interlocutors? Maybe. Or perhaps Diderot’s perfect reader is still yet to be born.

Regardless, Andrew Curran’s new book does a good job of at least putting us on a path towards becoming one of those readers. The book is not simply Diderot: A Life, but more of a Diderot primer. The first half or so is the standard popular biography, moving from ecclesiastic-in-training to convinced atheist to literary celebrity. But the second half gives us a solid introduction to the man’s ideas, useful considering this is, after all, a book about a revered philosopher. And after reading the book, I am, as Curran promised in the prologue, stupefied by Diderot.

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Star Count /5
Format Hard
Page Count 320 pages
Publisher Other Press
Publish Date 2019-01-15
ISBN 9781590516706
Bookshop.org Buy this Book
Issue Mar-19
Category Biographies & Memoirs


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