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Diderot: A Critical Biography by P.N.…

Diderot: A Critical Biography (edition 1992)

by P.N. Furbank

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592298,672 (3.38)3
Title:Diderot: A Critical Biography
Authors:P.N. Furbank
Info:Knopf (1992), Edition: lst American ed, Hardcover, 524 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:just scanned 2/15 - need to study

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Diderot: A Critical Biography by P. N. Furbank



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This is a fine book about a wonderful mind; I found Diderot fascinating. Denis Diderot is known as a philosophe, and the major author of the French Encyclopedia, but I first encountered him through his books "Rameau's Nephew" and "D'alembert's Dream". Diderot was a provocative thinker, but always a voracious seeker of knowledge as well, and deeply involved as an agent of change in his society.

The ideas that Diderot helped circulate at the time were Materialism, Atheism, popular democracy, and other threats to the established order of God and State, but he managed to be only briefly confined and intermittently censored for his writings. Diderot worked his subversion in a number of ways, not so much intending to subvert, but also uncompromising in his free exercise of thought and expression. Some of his more famous works were not published or widely circulated until after his death, so it is difficult to assess their immediate impacts, but overall he seems to be a central if sometimes hidden force in continental philosophy in the 1700s.

Many of the people Diderot influenced (and was influenced by) have been grouped together as the French Enlightenment. It was clear from this book that Diderot was particularly close to Rousseau and large portions of it are dedicated to their changing relationship.

Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm was a significant figure in Diderot's life, and I'd like to know more about this character who seems to be at work in a subtle and pervasive way in Europe's intellectual developments at that time.Mme d'Epinay, Baron d'Holbach and to an extent Julie de Lespinasse and Madame Helvetius were also important players in Diderot's overlapping circles through their Salons. d'Alembert was Diderot's main partner in the Encyclopedia, and at times his intellectual foil, though d'Alembert seemed to focus more narrowly than Diderot on mathematical and scientific interests.

There is a site dedicated to translating the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d'Alembert: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/did/ Decide for yourselves if it is a "confidence trick", as another reviewer characterized it. ( )
  BobCulley | Sep 8, 2013 |
My knowledge of Diderot, which was sketchy in the extreme at the outset, has not been greatly enhanced by this book. Mr. Furbank seems to hold Diderot in the very highest esteem but, his biography paints a picture of a rather unpleasant man.

Based solely upon this book, I would say that Diderot was an atheist and a believer in science in the same way that a spoilt child is convinced that sweeties and not vegetables are the best food. His legendary encyclopaedia seems more of a confidence trick and his novels of questionable value.

Not an enjoyable read. ( )
  the.ken.petersen | Aug 31, 2010 |
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