Paul Johnson

Ideas in Action

The Roads to Modernity: The British, French and American Enlightenments

By

Vintage 304pp £8.99 order from our bookshop

Gertrude Himmelfarb is a valuable piece on the intellectual chessboard. Unlike most historians of ideas, she discusses her concepts against a firm historical background, in the light of the personalities of individual writers, starkly delineated, and with due regard to the moral consequences of what they thought. She also writes excellent prose. Her purpose in this book is to show what the term ‘Enlightenment’ meant in France, the United States and Britain. Her thesis is that it signified quite different things in the three countries. In France, it was ‘the ideology of reason’, in America, ‘the politics of liberty’ and in Britain, ‘the sociology of virtue’. The structure of the book is thus simple and clear, and she contrives to dispatch her subject in a little over 200 pages without any sense of hurry or omission of anything that matters.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Something of an 'eccentric billionaire’s hobby': reviews 'The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and… ,
    • "At the age of fifteen, drunk on stolen Chardonnay or stoned on pot at a swimming party, the thoughts that come imm… ,
    • For the latest Bookends, here's Alan Taylor musing on his stint as an assistant librarian. ,
    • A ‘pretentious ass and impotent arriviste’ who surrounded himself with ‘degenerates, hooligans, childish layabouts,… ,
    • . reviews 'Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life' by ,
    • "As Beevor shows, it was one of the most daring, dangerous and fiercely fought operations of the whole war. It was… ,
    • "The characters are very rich and very male, with astronomical ambitions. The potted biographies in this book sugge… ,