The best eighteenth-century books you should read for yourself

Sylvana Tomaselli Author Of Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion, and Politics
By Sylvana Tomaselli

Who am I?

I have had the privilege to teach the history of political theory from Plato to today for decades and to discuss texts such as the five I mentioned with very gifted students. No matter how often I return to such works, I always find something new in them and it is a pleasure to see how students learn to love reading for themselves what can be daunting works, once they overcome the fear of opening the great works and the initial challenge of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century prose.


I wrote...

Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion, and Politics

By Sylvana Tomaselli,

Book cover of Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion, and Politics

What is my book about?

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, first published in 1792, is a work of enduring relevance in women’s rights advocacy. However, as Sylvana Tomaselli shows, a full understanding of Wollstonecraft’s thought is possible only through a more comprehensive appreciation of Wollstonecraft herself, as a philosopher and moralist who deftly tackled major social and political issues and the arguments of such figures as Edmund Burke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Adam Smith. Reading Wollstonecraft through the lens of the politics and culture of her own time, this book restores her to her rightful place as a major eighteenth-century thinker, reminding us why her work still resonates today.

The books I picked & why

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The Wealth of Nations

By Adam Smith,

Book cover of The Wealth of Nations

Why this book?

Even though Adam Smith is often said to be the father of all that is good or bad about capitalism very few people have read his famous Wealth of Nations. Why? Well, 1) they think they already know what’s in it: no government intervention in the economy, thank you. 2) It is two volumes. 3) It must be very dreary because it is about economics, and 4) they are not good at economics or math.  

But read it for yourself, and you will find that it is readable, nuanced, and you can skip the bits that you can’t make out, enjoy the examples, and decide for yourself what he actually argued and whether you agree with it or not.

The Wealth of Nations

By Adam Smith,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Wealth of Nations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally referred to by its shortened title The Wealth of Nations, is the magnum opus of the Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. First published in 1776, the book offers one of the world's first collected descriptions of what builds nations' wealth, and is today a fundamental work in classical economics. By reflecting upon the economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the book touches upon such broad topics as the division of labour, productivity, and free markets.


Leviathan

By Thomas Hobbes,

Book cover of Leviathan

Why this book?

Hobbes’ attention to the meaning of words and his prose make this book well worth reading. If you find the beginning of Part I hard going, leaf through it and slow down as you come to last chapters of that first part of the book. Those and Part II are particularly engaging and make one think about the meaning of liberty, the nature of obedience, and the extent to which we are obliged to obey the state. Hobbes has interesting things to say about mercy and forgiveness, which might not be expected given the way he tends to be a caricatured. Another good book to read for oneself.

Leviathan

By Thomas Hobbes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leviathan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short'

Written during the chaos of the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan asks how, in a world of violence and horror, can we stop ourselves from descending into anarchy? Hobbes' case for a 'common-wealth' under a powerful sovereign - or 'Leviathan' - to enforce security and the rule of law, shocked his contemporaries, and his book was publicly burnt for sedition the moment it was published. But his penetrating work of political philosophy opened up questions about the nature of statecraft and society that influenced governments across the world.

Edited…


Reflections on the Revolution in France

By Edmund Burke,

Book cover of Reflections on the Revolution in France

Why this book?

Allegedly the father of conservatism, Burke could as easily be deemed the father of liberalism, though neither label is appropriate. Easy to read, and a bit of a rant in sections, Burke’s Reflections is a good source if you want to pick up rhetorical skills. Besides the prose, it's interesting to see how someone who was known to have supported the American pleas for political representation and sympathetic to their grievance as well as those of the Irish people tried to explain how what was happening in France in the early years of the revolution was something profoundly different to anything that had ever happened hitherto, and on no account to be compared to the Glorious Revolution. Very few of his immediate readers could see what he was getting at.  

Reflections on the Revolution in France

By Edmund Burke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reflections on the Revolution in France as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reflections on the Revolution in France offers provocative political commentary from the British statesman Edmund Burke, that examines the early stages of the French Revolution. It's a searing criticism of those in and outside formal government who support the movement's unconventional methods.



The French Revolution was a decade-long social and political conflict that changed the landscape of modern France. Irish philosopher and politician Edmund Burke of the Whig Party wrote a pamphlet explaining fundamental errors within the revolution's approach. He believed the fight for freedom was too abstract and needed more sustainable and proven direction. Burke warned that without proper…


A Vindication of the Rights of Men

By Mary Wollstonecraft,

Book cover of A Vindication of the Rights of Men

Why this book?

Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Men, was a vigorous attack, probably the first, on Burke and his Reflections. Short and merciless, it is a spirited diatribe and displays her strong argumentative skills. It is the foundation for her far better-known Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She may not be fair to him, but she thought he hadn’t been fair to anyone either. Both Burke and she are engaging in some of the great issues of modern politics.

A Vindication of the Rights of Men

By Mary Wollstonecraft,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Vindication of the Rights of Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Less known than Mary Wollstonecraft's later work, A Vindication of the Rights of Men was her first work as a feminist philosopher and commentator. Compared to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, this work is more focused on the specific political environment of the time. However, it covers many of the same themes, including the importance of liberty and equality.

When it was initially published anonymously, it was both successful and and influential. Later, when Wollstonecraft revealed herself as the author, critics focused on her identity as a woman, rather than the political ideals, leading to her rejection by…


Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary

By David Hume, Eugene F. Miller (editor),

Book cover of Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary

Why this book?

Hume’s Essays were a great publishing success at soon as they appeared. They established his reputation not only in the UK, but also on the Continent and America. Entertaining, they not only considered issues of the day such as commerce and the progress of civilization but treat of questions that remain relevant today on freedom of the press, political parties, taxes, and divorce. The writing is elegant and helps us understand the making of modernity.

Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary

By David Hume, Eugene F. Miller (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Essays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This edition contains the thirty-nine essays included in Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary that made up Volume I of the 1777 posthumous Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. It also includes ten essays that were withdrawn or left unpublished by Hume for various reasons.

Eugene F. Miller was Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia from 1967 until his retirement in 2003.

Please note: This title is available as an ebook for purchase on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes.

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