100 books like Enlightenment

By Kim Sloan (editor), Andrew Burnett (editor),

Here are 100 books that Enlightenment fans have personally recommended if you like Enlightenment. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style

Ludmilla Jordanova Author Of The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice

From my list on visual culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian and writer who strives to combine the history of science and medicine, the study of visual culture, and cultural history in my work. Although I hated being dragged round art galleries and museums as a child, something must have stuck, laying the foundations for my interest in using images and artefacts to understand both the past and the present. Since the early 1990s I’ve been writing about portraits, how they work, and why they are important—I remain gripped by the compelling ways they speak to identity.  It was a privilege to serve as a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery in London between 2001 and 2009.

Ludmilla's book list on visual culture

Ludmilla Jordanova Why did Ludmilla love this book?

This book is simply brilliant. I first read it in the 1980s and return to it often for inspiration and to remind myself of its piercing lucidity. Beautifully written, clear, thoughtful, and direct, it expresses a way of looking at art and visual culture that can be applied to other times and places. Baxandall explores the social relationships and practices out of which works of art emerge, connecting the way paintings look with the society in which they were made. He robustly criticises simplistic approaches to the art of the past and shows how we can think differently and understand more. I have deep admiration for Michael Baxandall, whose writings encourage readers to reflect on their own visual skills and habits, how and where they have acquired them.

By Michael Baxandall,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is both an introduction to fifteenth-century Italian painting, and a primer in how to read social history out of the style of pictures. It examines the commercial practice of the early Renaissance picture, trade in contracts, letters, and accounts; and it explains how the visual skills and habits evolved in the daily life of any society enter into its painters' style. Renaissance painting is related for instance to experience of such activities as
preaching, dancing, and gauging barrels.

This second edition contains an appendix, the original Latin and Italian texts referred to throughout the book, giving the student…


Book cover of A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor

Ludmilla Jordanova Author Of The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice

From my list on visual culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian and writer who strives to combine the history of science and medicine, the study of visual culture, and cultural history in my work. Although I hated being dragged round art galleries and museums as a child, something must have stuck, laying the foundations for my interest in using images and artefacts to understand both the past and the present. Since the early 1990s I’ve been writing about portraits, how they work, and why they are important—I remain gripped by the compelling ways they speak to identity.  It was a privilege to serve as a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery in London between 2001 and 2009.

Ludmilla's book list on visual culture

Ludmilla Jordanova Why did Ludmilla love this book?

A Fortunate Man is deeply moving by virtue of combining words and images to evoke the life of a General Practitioner in rural England, a man prone to depression, who took his own life 15 years later. The black and white photographs of the doctor, his patients, and the landscape in which they lived, perfectly match the poetic prose to capture the day-to-day existence of a man totally committed to his patients and their well-being. It’s an outstanding example of the power of photography when complemented by text to convey the complexities of lives, communities, and healing. The doctor truly dwelt among the people he treated and knew about every aspect of their lives. This book bears eloquent witness to a form of medical practice that has largely disappeared.

By John Berger, Jean Mohr (photographer),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1966 John Berger spent three months in the Forest of Dean shadowing an English country GP, John Sassall.

Sassall is a fortunate man - his work occupies and fulfils him, he lives amongst the patients he treats, the line between his life and his work is happily blurred.

In A Fortunate Man, Berger's text and the photography of Jean Mohr reveal with extraordinary intensity the life of a remarkable man. It is a portrait of one selfless individual and the rural community for which he became the hub. Drawing on psychology, biography and medicine A Fortunate Man is a…


Book cover of Beyond the Face: New Perspectives on Portraiture

Ludmilla Jordanova Author Of The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice

From my list on visual culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian and writer who strives to combine the history of science and medicine, the study of visual culture, and cultural history in my work. Although I hated being dragged round art galleries and museums as a child, something must have stuck, laying the foundations for my interest in using images and artefacts to understand both the past and the present. Since the early 1990s I’ve been writing about portraits, how they work, and why they are important—I remain gripped by the compelling ways they speak to identity.  It was a privilege to serve as a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery in London between 2001 and 2009.

Ludmilla's book list on visual culture

Ludmilla Jordanova Why did Ludmilla love this book?

Published by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., this beautifully produced and generously illustrated book contains essays on many aspects of portraiture with special emphasis on the USA. Portraits are fascinating; there is just so much to say about the ways in which materials such as paper, stone, metal, and canvas, ink, crayon, and paint can conjure up a human being. Nations, institutions, professions, families, and individuals all make use of portraits to affirm their positions, persuade those who view them of their worth, and shape forms of remembrance. The essays are relatively short, which encourages readers to browse, read a contribution and then come back often to look as well as read more about one of the most extraordinary forms of visual culture that has ever been produced.    

By Wendy Wick Reaves (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Explores new approaches to portraying identity and the human face and figure, through works from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery's collections and other institutions. Is there more to portraiture than eyes meeting eyes? Beyond the Face: New Perspectives on Portraiture presents sixteen essays by leading scholars who explore the subtle means by which artists - and subjects - convey a sense of identity and reveal historical context. Examining a wide range of topics, from early caricature and political vandalism of portraits to contemporary selfies and performance art, these studies challenge our traditional assumptions about portraiture. By probing the diversity and…


Book cover of Chardin

Ludmilla Jordanova Author Of The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice

From my list on visual culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian and writer who strives to combine the history of science and medicine, the study of visual culture, and cultural history in my work. Although I hated being dragged round art galleries and museums as a child, something must have stuck, laying the foundations for my interest in using images and artefacts to understand both the past and the present. Since the early 1990s I’ve been writing about portraits, how they work, and why they are important—I remain gripped by the compelling ways they speak to identity.  It was a privilege to serve as a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery in London between 2001 and 2009.

Ludmilla's book list on visual culture

Ludmilla Jordanova Why did Ludmilla love this book?

Passionate as I am about all forms of visual culture, ‘art’ remains important. There are some artists that I just can’t help returning to time and time again. One of them is the eighteenth-century French master Chardin. Exhibition catalogues are generally expensive, but they represent the state of the art, with reliable text and excellent illustrations—this one is no exception. It’s a work of art in its own right. The subject matter of Chardin’s work was diverse, and exquisitely rendered, whether a still life, a scene from everyday life, or a self-portrait. Words such as delicate, soft, and ravishing come to mind. It’s hard to explain why we are beguiled by some artists and not others. These hefty catalogues are so valuable, especially for those who can’t travel.

By Pierre Rosenberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Widely acknowledged in his time as a premier painter of still life and genre scenes, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) created unsentimentalized works that appeal to viewers today for their richness of feeling and simplicity of composition. This sumptuously illustrated book reproduces in full color 99 of Chardin's works and arranges them around five themes: Chardin's Beginnings and His First Still Lifes, Utensils and Household Objects, Genre Scenes, Chardin's Return to Still Life, and Pastels.

The contributors to the volume explore Chardin's work from many different angles, including the latest thinking on such lesser-known facets of his life and work as his…


Book cover of At Home With The Marquis De Sade

Andrew S. Curran Author Of Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely

From my list on the Enlightenment and the world is created.

Why am I passionate about this?

Andrew Curran is passionate about books and ideas related to the eighteenth century. His writing on the Enlightenment has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, Time Magazine, The Paris Review, El Païs, and The Wall Street Journal. Curran is also the author of three books and numerous scholarly articles on the French Enlightenment. He is currently writing a new multi-person biography that chronicles the birth of the concept of race for Other Press. Curran teaches at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, where he is a Professor of French and the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities.

Andrew's book list on the Enlightenment and the world is created

Andrew S. Curran Why did Andrew love this book?

The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) is one of those characters that you loathe, but cannot help but find fascinating. By all standards, this deviant aristocrat was a gentleman in name only. Yet his remarkable life (32 years of it spent in prison) and amoral philosophizing provide the grist for a great biography under the pen of Gray. Readers will find many of de Sade’s horrific exploits here, yet this book also explores his relationship with the two most important women in his life: his beloved wife, who indulged him for decades, and his hated mother-in-law, whom he envisioned flaying alive before throwing her “into a vat of vinegar.” To a large degree, Marquis’s life and philosophy were an intentionally extreme version of the Enlightenment’s emancipation of the individual. A great window into the dark side of the Enlightenment.

Book cover of Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment

Tomek Jankowski Author Of Eastern Europe! Everything You Need to Know About the History (and More) of a Region that Shaped Our World and Still Does

From my list on understanding your Eastern European Grandma.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born into a family with an Eastern European heritage, and lived and studied in the region for some years – including during the period of the collapse of the communist regimes. I am comfortable in Polish and Hungarian, and more vaguely functional in Russian and German – with Bulgarian a distant last. My undergraduate degree in history included an Eastern European specialization (including a paper co-administered between American and Hungarian institutions), and my graduate degree in economics included a focus on emerging economies. In my “day job” as a business analyst, I deal frequently with the business landscape in the region. I am married to a Pole, and have family in Poland.    

Tomek's book list on understanding your Eastern European Grandma

Tomek Jankowski Why did Tomek love this book?

Again, this may be a bit dense reading but Wolff tackles the very notion of “Eastern Europe.”

The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement that began in the mid-17th century and lasted until about 1800, and it focused on remaking politics. Enlightenment thinkers believed in change and progress, that Europeans were not doomed to suffer under the tyranny of feudal kings.

Wolff explores how these Enlightenment thinkers celebrated an Age of Progress in Western Europe – but were less impressed with the Eastern half. For thinkers like Voltaire, “Eastern Europe” came to mean backward, under-developed, superstitious, and violent Europe.

These thinkers began using this term, “Eastern Europe” in the 1770s to mean “the Other Europe,” like an embarrassing, unwanted sibling. Wolff describes how these attitudes shaped Western policies towards Eastern Europe. 

By Larry Wolff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is a wide-ranging intellectual history of how, in the 18th century, Europe came to be conceived as divided into "Western Europe" and "Eastern Europe". The author argues that this conceptual reorientation from the previously accepted "Northern" and "Southern" was a work of cultural construction and intellectual artifice created by the philosophes of the Enlightenment. He shows how the philosophers viewed the continent from the perspective of Paris and deliberately cultivated an idea of the backwardness of "Eastern Europe" the more readily to affirm the importance of "Western Europe".


Book cover of The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700: An Interpretation

Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski Author Of The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1733-1795: Light and Flame

From my list on Central and Eastern European history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by Central and Eastern Europe all of my adult life. Many cruises along the Danube and around the Baltic Sea have allowed me to see the stunning best of the region. Since the early 1990s, I’ve taught the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Russian Empire to a generation of students. Professor of Polish-Lithuanian History at University College London since 2013, my next challenge is to promote the history of Poland to allcomers via the Polish History Museum in Warsaw, the wonderful city which is my home.

Richard's book list on Central and Eastern European history

Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski Why did Richard love this book?

Robert Evans’s masterpiece is the reader’s equivalent of scaling Himalayan peaksand marveling at the views. The author’s linguistic and intellectual range is breathtaking. Those who read this classic of learned prose carefully will be taken on an unforgettable journey right over and below the horizon of the Central European mind between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. One of the greatest works of early modern intellectual history ever written.

By Robert John Weston Evans,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book examines and accounts for the emergence of a powerful Habsburg state in central Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Charting the transformation of the Habsburg lands from a casual juxtaposition of territories into a major and reasonably stable commonwealth, Evans examines the social and economic changes brought about by the Counter-Reformation, the interaction between regions and central government, and the intellectual evolution from the Renaissance
to the Baroque.


Book cover of The Other Pareto

Christopher Adair-Toteff Author Of Vilfredo Pareto's Contributions to Modern Social Theory: A Centennial Appraisal

From my list on Vilfredo Pareto’s sociological writings.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was trained as a philosopher and have been a professor of philosophy for more than three decades. Beginning with Plato, I have been persuaded that reason is powerful. I am also a social theorist and have published scholarly books on Max Weber, Ferdinand Tönnies, and Raymond Aron. Yet Pareto’s writings have convinced me that people are most often motivated by interests and passions and then use reasons to justify their behavior. Plato showed people as they ought to be; Pareto showed them as they are. Philosophy is important, but so is Pareto’s social psychology.

Christopher's book list on Vilfredo Pareto’s sociological writings

Christopher Adair-Toteff Why did Christopher love this book?

The Other Pareto contains one of the best accounts of Pareto’s thinking. He provides a fuller context regarding Pareto's place in social thinking. 

Bucolo began with Pareto’s early writings from 1872 and proceeds to provide an explanation of Pareto’s ideas until Pareto’s death in 1923. Bucolo provided massive quotations from Pareto’s writings to support and document his interpretation.

By Placido Bucolo (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

308p hardback with green laminated jacket, as new, dense ink notes to front endpapers, pages clean with bibliography and index, very good


Book cover of The Wall

Lisa Currie Author Of Guidebook to the Unknown: A Journal for Anxious Minds

From my list on journeying into the unknown.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Australian author and artist who is quite cautious and introverted by nature, but very curious and playful at heart. I make books that help people untangle what’s on their mind today and shift their thinking in creative ways, often using visual metaphors. My latest book, Guidebook to the Unknown, was created during the long lockdowns we had in Melbourne (and all over the world of course) during the pandemic. It was my way of exploring how to calm an anxious mind and find meaning in my daily life, right here and now, without knowing what tomorrow will bring.

Lisa's book list on journeying into the unknown

Lisa Currie Why did Lisa love this book?

This story has stayed with me for years. A woman takes a holiday in the Austrian mountains and wakes up to an inexplicable new reality—she’s totally alone in the world, so it seems, and has to learn to fend for herself. We journey into the unknown with her as she reports on the mental and physical challenges of her new daily life… and it stirs up so many interesting questions about who we are without connection and community, and where meaning can be found in the most stripped-back life.

By Marlen Haushofer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“I can allow myself to write the truth; all the people for whom I have lied throughout my life are dead…” writes the heroine of Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall, a quite ordinary, unnamed middle-aged woman who awakens to find she is the last living human being. Surmising her solitude is the result of a too successful military experiment, she begins the terrifying work of not only survival, but self-renewal. The Wall is at once a simple and moving talk — of potatoes and beans, of hoping for a calf, of counting matches, of forgetting the taste of sugar and the…


Book cover of Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World

Ritchie Robertson Author Of The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

From my list on the Enlightenment.

Why am I passionate about this?

In 2021 I retired as Schwarz-Taylor Professor of German at Oxford. For many years I had been interested not only in German literature but in European literature and culture more broadly, particularly in the eighteenth century. Oxford is a centre of Enlightenment research, being the site of the Voltaire Foundation, where a team of scholars has just finished editing the complete works of Voltaire. When in 2013 I was asked to write a book on the Enlightenment, I realized that I had ideal resources to hand – though I also benefited from a year’s leave spent at Göttingen, the best place in Germany to study the eighteenth century. 

Ritchie's book list on the Enlightenment

Ritchie Robertson Why did Ritchie love this book?

The late Roy Porter wanted to show that England did not lag behind Scotland in promoting Enlightenment, and assembled a huge quantity of material to show not just the theoretical but also the practical effects of Enlightenment. Ranging widely, he dwells on practical projects like the building of roads and canals, on the beginnings of industry (e.g. Wedgwood’s pottery factory at Etruria), and on reform of the criminal law. A distinguished historian of science, he says much about medical experiments, scientific research, and the increasingly humane treatment of mental disorders.

By Roy Porter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It is almost impossible to encapsulate briefly the range and variety contained in Roy Porter's major new book. For generations the focus for those wishing to understand the roots of the modern world has been France on the eve of the Revolution. Porter certainly acknowledges France's importance, but makes an overwhelming, fascinating case for considering Britain the "true" home of modernity - a country driven by an exuberance, diversity and power of invention comparable only to 20th-century America. Porter immerses the reader in a society which, recovering from the horrors of the Civil War and decisively reinvigorated by the revolution…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Age of Enlightenment, Europe, and the British Museum?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Age of Enlightenment, Europe, and the British Museum.

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