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Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely by…
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Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely (2019)

by Andrew S. Curran

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691266,614 (4.21)1
"A vivacious biography of the prophetic and sympathetic philosopher who along with Voltaire and Rousseau built the foundations of the modern world, and travelled as far as Russia to enlighten the Tsarina Catherine the Great. Denis Diderot is often associated with the decades-long battle to bring the world's first comprehensive Encyclop√©die into existence. But his most compelling and personal writing took place in the shadows. Thrown into prison for his atheism in 1749, Diderot decided to reserve his most daring books for posterity-for us, in fact. In the astonishing cache of unpublished writings that he left behind after his death, Diderot dreamed of natural selection before Darwin, the Oedipus complex before Freud, and genetic manipulation centuries before Dolly the Sheep was born. Even more audaciously, the writer challenged virtually all of his century's accepted truths, from the sanctity of monarchy, to the racial justification of slave trade, to the limits of human sexuality. He was also keenly aware of the dangers of absolute power, about which he wrote so persuasively that it led Catherine the Great not only to support him financially but also to invite him to St. Petersburg. In this thematically organized biography, Andrew Curran vividly describes Diderot's tormented relationship with Rousseau, his feud with Voltaire, his tortured marriage, his passionate affairs, and his often-paradoxical stand on art, morality, and religion. But what this book brings out most brilliantly is how a man's character flaws and limitations are often the flip side of his genius and his ability to break taboos, dogmas, and conventions"--… (more)

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My only complaint is the plethora of names....many I knew, many I did not. An all inclusive list of the characters ( more extensive than the abbreviated list provided) would have been welcome. I love the Enlightenment and works dealing with this timeframe I find exciting and wonderful. Diderot is a minor hero of mine so the book was a feeding frenzy on my part. Well-written although splitting the book into two sections, one mostly biographical and the second mostly thematic was maybe not the best. Still, an excellent read. ( )
  untraveller | Jul 31, 2019 |
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