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.

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

    • He weeps by the side of the ocean, He weeps on the top of the hill; He purchases pancakes and lotion, And chocolate… ,
    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,