Ruth Scurr

After Such Knowledge

Wicked Company: Freethinkers and Friendship in Pre-Revolutionary Paris

By

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 361pp £25 order from our bookshop

Wicked Company is a group biography of the philosophes, whose courageous and radical thought helped prepare France for the seismic political upheaval of 1789. Philipp Blom deftly delineates the friendship through which Denis Diderot and the Baron d’Holbach pursued philosophical truth and collaborated on the eighteenth century’s most ambitious publishing project: the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (which ran to twenty-eight volumes between 1751 and 1772, covering topics as diverse as azymites and tailoring). The aim of the Encyclopédie’s editors was ‘to collect all the knowledge that now lies scattered over the face of the earth, to make known its general structure to the men among whom we live, and to transmit it to those who will come after us’ – to make men not only wiser but also ‘more virtuous and more happy’. The relations of both Diderot and d’Holbach to Voltaire and Rousseau (whose posthumous reputations have fared somewhat better in the Anglophone world) are also carefully drawn; as are their connections with foreign writers and intellectuals (Friedrich Grimm, David Hume, Ferdinando Galiani and Count Beccaria) and their interactions with rare examples of freethinking women, the brilliant and wealthy Louise d’Epinay especially.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Why did the 'bold and determined' Empress Matilda never manage to become Queen regnant? Peter Marshall reviews a n… ,
    • From the Archive: Martyn Bedford on Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' ,
    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,