The best books about the Age of Enlightenment

11 authors have picked their favorite books about the Age of Enlightenment and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

At Home With The Marquis De Sade

By Francine Du Plessix Gray,

Book cover of At Home With The Marquis De Sade

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.

At Home With The Marquis De Sade

By Francine Du Plessix Gray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked At Home With The Marquis De Sade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Book cover of Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely

What is my book about?

Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely is a spirited biography of the life of France’s most famous Enlightenment-era atheist. For those people who have never heard of him, Diderot was the consummate Enlightenment polymath, the type of thinker who might write on ancient Chinese and Greek music first thing in the morning, study the mechanics of a cotton mill until noon, help purchase some paintings for Catherine the Great in the afternoon, and then return home and compose a play and a fifteen-page letter to his mistress before going to bed. This book chronicles Diderot’s amazing life, including his tormented relationship with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his curious correspondence with Voltaire, his passionate affairs, and his often-iconoclastic stands on art, theater, morality, politics, and religion.

Enlightenment Now

By Steven Pinker,

Book cover of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

I also wake up every morning, check the news and think that the world is falling apart. Because evolution in our dangerous pre-history often resulted in the survival of those who worried most. That is why we have to check the data and the long-term trends to correct for our exaggerated sense of drama, to understand where we are – in the period of time with the most wealth, best health, most literacy, and least poverty. There are other great books from rational optimists, like Matt Ridley, Hans Rosling, and Charles Kenny, but Steven Pinker’s is the one that covers most areas, and does it in a convincing and impassioned way. It is a wonderful book and one you should have on the bedside table, if only for a quick glance every time you get the impression the world is falling apart.

Enlightenment Now

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Enlightenment Now as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018
ONE OF THE ECONOMIST'S BOOKS OF THE YEAR

"My new favorite book of all time." --Bill Gates

If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science. By the author of the new book, Rationality.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third…

Who am I?

I did not use to believe in human progress, but thought there must have been good old days behind us – until I studied history and understood that my ancestors did not live ecologically, they died ecologically, at an early age. Since then I’ve been obsessed with progress, what makes it possible and how we can spread it to more people. I am a historian of ideas from Sweden, the host of a video series on innovations in history, New and Improved, and the writer of many books on intellectual history and global economics, translated into more than 25 languages.


I wrote...

Open: The Story of Human Progress

By Johan Norberg,

Book cover of Open: The Story of Human Progress

What is my book about?

Mankind conquered the planet because we use more brains and more hands, always learning from and exchanging with others. History’s great civilizations were dependent on openness to people, goods, and ideas from strange places – and so are we.

But there is a catch. We developed this ability to cooperate harmoniously so that we could kill and steal. Competition between groups in pre-history turned us into traders, but also tribalists, tempted to divide the world into us and them. We need openness, but are often uncomfortable with it. This is the historical and psychological background to the current battle between Open and Closed. Part sweeping history and part polemic, this book makes the case for why an open world is worth fighting for more than ever.

Enlightenment

By Roy Porter,

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

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.

Enlightenment

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…

Who am I?

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. 


I wrote...

The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

By Ritchie Robertson,

Book cover of The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

What is my book about?

The Enlightenment is still often thought of as ‘the age of reason’. But it also placed a new value on emotion, sensibility, sympathy. It was held together by the belief that happiness could be attained, not or not only in heaven, but on this earth, and that the conditions of human life could be improved and people could be freed from unnecessary fears. 

These endeavours did not concern only white men in wigs. As the reading public was growing rapidly, Enlightened thought spread widely. It was not confined to philosophers. My book draws heavily on literature to document a change in sensibility and a new readiness to imagine the experiences of others. Sympathy led to the liberation of serfs in Europe and slaves outside Europe, and to denunciations of European colonialism. 

Light in Germany

By T.J. Reed,

Book cover of Light in Germany: Scenes from an Unknown Enlightenment

For centuries German historians underplayed the Enlightenment, treating it as an unwelcome foreign import. Writing with the zeal almost of a missionary, Reed shows that Germany participated fully in the Enlightenment, and that the great luminaries of the German classical age, Goethe and Schiller, continued its endeavours in individual and sometimes idiosyncratic ways. He also offers a unique introduction to the philosophy of Kant, showing how it developed in the specific milieu of Prussia under the Enlightened despot Frederick the Great, and drawing attention also to his pioneering work as a theoretical scientist: Kant was the first person to suggest that the nebulae visible beyond the Milky Way might be separate galaxies.

Light in Germany

By T.J. Reed,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Germany's political and cultural past, from ancient times through World War II, has dimmed the legacy of its Enlightenment, which these days is far outshone by those of France and Scotland. In this book, T. J. Reed clears the dust away from eighteenth-century Germany, bringing the likes of Kant, Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and Gotthold Lessing into a coherent and focused beam that shines within European intellectual history and reasserts the important role of Germany's Enlightenment. Reed looks closely at the arguments, achievements, conflicts, and controversies of these major thinkers and how their development of a lucid and active liberal thinking…

Who am I?

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. 


I wrote...

The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

By Ritchie Robertson,

Book cover of The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

What is my book about?

The Enlightenment is still often thought of as ‘the age of reason’. But it also placed a new value on emotion, sensibility, sympathy. It was held together by the belief that happiness could be attained, not or not only in heaven, but on this earth, and that the conditions of human life could be improved and people could be freed from unnecessary fears. 

These endeavours did not concern only white men in wigs. As the reading public was growing rapidly, Enlightened thought spread widely. It was not confined to philosophers. My book draws heavily on literature to document a change in sensibility and a new readiness to imagine the experiences of others. Sympathy led to the liberation of serfs in Europe and slaves outside Europe, and to denunciations of European colonialism. 

Book cover of Women and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century Britain

O’Brien looks at the place of women in the British Enlightenment in two ways. Historians, especially in Scotland, offered progressive narratives of the history of civilization, in which women had the task of softening the manners of history’s male protagonists. Women writers, on the other hand, could not be reduced to such a subordinate role, but were independent-minded and often radical. We have all heard of the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, but she had many predecessors, notably the politically radical historian Catharine Macaulay, whose voices are presented here.

Women and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century Britain

By Karen O’Brien,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century Britain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the long eighteenth century, ideas of society and of social progress were first fully investigated. These investigations took place in the contexts of economic, theological, historical and literary writings which paid unprecedented attention to the place of women. Combining intellectual history with literary criticism, Karen O'Brien examines the central importance to the British Enlightenment both of women writers and of women as a subject of enquiry. She examines the work of a range of writers, including John Locke, Mary Astell, David Hume, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, T. R. Malthus, the Bluestockings, Catharine Macaulay, Mary Wollstonecraft and the first female…

Who am I?

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. 


I wrote...

The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

By Ritchie Robertson,

Book cover of The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

What is my book about?

The Enlightenment is still often thought of as ‘the age of reason’. But it also placed a new value on emotion, sensibility, sympathy. It was held together by the belief that happiness could be attained, not or not only in heaven, but on this earth, and that the conditions of human life could be improved and people could be freed from unnecessary fears. 

These endeavours did not concern only white men in wigs. As the reading public was growing rapidly, Enlightened thought spread widely. It was not confined to philosophers. My book draws heavily on literature to document a change in sensibility and a new readiness to imagine the experiences of others. Sympathy led to the liberation of serfs in Europe and slaves outside Europe, and to denunciations of European colonialism. 

Book cover of Power, Pleasure, and Profit: Insatiable Appetites from Machiavelli to Madison

This is an original view of the Enlightenment by one of the most exciting of its current historians. The Enlightenment urged people to think for themselves; intellectual authority resided ultimately within the individual. It valued the emotions as highly as reason; emotions included what philosophers called ‘the passions’, not just sympathy with others, but individual desires and appetites. The Enlightenment was also a period of increasing material prosperity, in which some thinkers still praised the virtue of frugality, while others pointed out that luxury and self-indulgence were necessary to drive the modern economy. These arguments, displayed here with energy and clarity, are with us still.

Power, Pleasure, and Profit

By David Wootton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A provocative history of the changing values that have given rise to our present discontents.

We pursue power, pleasure, and profit. We want as much as we can get, and we deploy instrumental reasoning-cost-benefit analysis-to get it. We judge ourselves and others by how well we succeed. It is a way of life and thought that seems natural, inevitable, and inescapable. As David Wootton shows, it is anything but. In Power, Pleasure, and Profit, he traces an intellectual and cultural revolution that replaced the older systems of Aristotelian ethics and Christian morality with the iron cage of instrumental reasoning that…


Who am I?

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. 


I wrote...

The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

By Ritchie Robertson,

Book cover of The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

What is my book about?

The Enlightenment is still often thought of as ‘the age of reason’. But it also placed a new value on emotion, sensibility, sympathy. It was held together by the belief that happiness could be attained, not or not only in heaven, but on this earth, and that the conditions of human life could be improved and people could be freed from unnecessary fears. 

These endeavours did not concern only white men in wigs. As the reading public was growing rapidly, Enlightened thought spread widely. It was not confined to philosophers. My book draws heavily on literature to document a change in sensibility and a new readiness to imagine the experiences of others. Sympathy led to the liberation of serfs in Europe and slaves outside Europe, and to denunciations of European colonialism. 

Dark Side of the Light

By Louis Sala-Molins,

Book cover of Dark Side of the Light: Slavery and the French Enlightenment

The philosopher and polemicist Sala-Molins fired a bow shot across Enlightenment scholarship with this book in 1992. In an era when most French scholars of the Enlightenment continued to study (and valorize) the figureheads of the era, Sala-Molins attributed the supposed silence of the philosophes regarding the horrors of chattel slavery to deep-seated racism. More polemically he called out individual thinkers such as Voltaire and Montesquieu, the latter of whom Sala-Molins memorably called a négrier or slave trader. Peu importe or little does it matter that the book itself is rife with historical inaccuracies. The Dark Side of the Light was and is a powerful cri de coeur directed at scholars of the eighteenth century, a plea for them to look more carefully at the legacies – good and bad – that we now associate with the Enlightenment. 

Dark Side of the Light

By Louis Sala-Molins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau and Montesquieu are best known for their humanist theories and liberating influence on Western civilization. But as renowned French intellectual Louis Sala-Molins shows, Enlightenment discourses and scholars were also complicit in the Atlantic slave trade, becoming instruments of oppression and inequality.

Translated into English for the first time, Dark Side of the Light scrutinizes Condorcet's Reflections on Negro Slavery and the works of Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Diderot side by side with the Code Noir (the royal document that codified the rules of French Caribbean slavery) in order to uncover attempts to uphold the humanist project…

Who are we?

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is an award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, and has authored or co-authored twenty-two books; he's also the host of PBS’s Finding Your Roots. Andrew Curran is a writer and the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities at Wesleyan University. His writing on the Enlightenment and race has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, and more. Curran is also the author of the award-winning Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely and The Anatomy of Blackness.


We wrote...

Who's Black and Why? A Forgotten Chapter in the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race

By Henry Louis Gates Jr. (editor), Andrew S. Curran (editor),

Book cover of Who's Black and Why? A Forgotten Chapter in the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race

What is my book about?

Who’s Black and Why? recounts the birth of the concept of race and anti-black racism during the Enlightenment era. We tell this story by looking back to 1739, the year when the Royal Academy of Sciences in Bordeaux announced that it would give a gold medal to the author of the best essay on the sources of “blackness.” Sixteen essays were ultimately dispatched to the Academy from all over Europe. Some of the contestants affirmed that Africans had fallen from God’s grace; others that blackness had resulted from a brutal climate; still others emphasized the anatomical specificity of Africans. This book, in short, is designed to be a compelling, albeit distressing, gateway to the origins of race and racism – as well as their inextricable links to African chattel slavery.

Enlightenment

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

Book cover of Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century

London’s British Museum, with its massive and diverse collections, is world famous and the story of its foundation and early years in the eighteenth century sheds light on the histories of collecting, knowledge, and exploration. More than twenty essays were assembled to celebrate the opening of the Enlightenment Gallery in the King’s Library after years of research and refurbishment. These essays draw readers into the people, the objects, and the ideas that shaped this important and influential institution. The book is lavishly illustrated with gorgeous photographs of paintings and statues, coins, fossils, china, and much more—a wonderful way to grasp the museum’s stupendous holdings and also to understand better the controversies it has engendered.

Enlightenment

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

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?

The extraordinary companion to the British Museum's 250th anniversary exhibition.
Opened in 1753 as the world's first public museum, the British Museum epitomized the Age of Enlightenment's dream of a rational universe. Indeed, in many ways the museum was the age's most potent instrument: the incarnation of a world that could be parsed, classified, and comprehended through the physical observation of objects, all in the name of reason, progress, and civic improvement.


In this lavishly illustrated volume, published to coincide with a new permanent exhibit, the museum's centrality to the Enlightenment enterprise is explored through the stunning breadth and variety…

Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice

By Ludmilla Jordanova,

Book cover of The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice

What is my book about?

How can we use visual and material culture to shed light on the past? Ludmilla Jordanova offers a fascinating and thoughtful introduction to the role of images, objects, and buildings in the study of past times. Through a combination of thematic chapters and essays on specific artefacts she shows how to analyse the agency and visual intelligence of artists, makers, and craftsmen and make sense of changes in visual experience over time. Generously illustrated and drawing on numerous examples of images and objects, this is an essential guide to the skills that students need in order to describe, analyse and contextualise visual evidence. The Look of the Past will encourage readers to think afresh about how they, like people in the past, see and interpret the world around them.

Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson

By Darren Staloff,

Book cover of Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding

This book is not as acclaimed as the others on this list, but it is a hidden gem. Staloff deftly weaves together the lives and ideas of three of the most notable founders, and the ways in which they were influenced by their Enlightenment forebears. Precisely because the book is relatively little-known, I recommend it all the time to colleagues and students.

Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson

By Darren Staloff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Where The Ideas for which We Stand came from.

In this incisively drawn book, Darren Staloff forcefully reminds us that America owes its guiding political traditions to three Founding Fathers whose lives embodied the collision of Europe's grand Enlightenment project with the birth of the nation.

Alexander Hamilton, the worldly New Yorker; John Adams, the curmudgeonly Yankee; Thomas Jefferson, the visionary Virginia squire—each governed their public lives by Enlightenment principles, and for each their relationship to the politics of Enlightenment was transformed by the struggle for American independence. Repeated humiliation on America's battlefields banished Hamilton's youthful idealism, leaving him a…


Who am I?

I’m a political theorist at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. I spent the first fifteen years or so of my career working on the Scottish and French Enlightenments (Adam Smith, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire), but in recent years I’ve been drawn more and more to the American founding. In addition to Fears of a Setting Sun, I’m also the author of The Constitution’s Penman: Gouverneur Morris and the Creation of America’s Basic Charter, which explores the constitutional vision of the immensely colorful individual who—unbeknownst to most Americans—wrote the US Constitution.


I wrote...

Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America's Founders

By Dennis C. Rasmussen,

Book cover of Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America's Founders

What is my book about?

My book tells the surprising story of how George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson came to despair for the future of the nation they had created.

Americans seldom deify their Founding Fathers any longer, but they do still tend to venerate the Constitution and the republican government that the founders created. Strikingly, the founders themselves were far less confident in what they had wrought, particularly by the end of their lives. In fact, most of them came to deem America’s constitutional experiment an utter failure that was unlikely to last beyond their own generation. Fears of a Setting Sun is the first book to tell the fascinating and too-little-known story of the founders’ disillusionment.

Dialectic of Enlightenment

By Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Edmund Jephcott (translator)

Book cover of Dialectic of Enlightenment

The standard liberal (and neoliberal) response to those who complain that enlightenment and progress leave behind precisely those people whom they are supposed to help the most has been to double down and demand more progress. In this 20th century classic of political-sociological analysis, Horkheimer and Adorno show that the concept of enlightenment as interpreted by the liberal politicians, and as touted by them to the masses whom they hold in thrall, is self-undermining.

Dialectic of Enlightenment

By Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Edmund Jephcott (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Dialectic of Enlightenment is undoubtedly the most influential publication of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Written during the Second World War and circulated privately, it appeared in a printed edition in Amsterdam in 1947. "What we had set out to do," the authors write in the Preface, "was nothing less than to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism."

Yet the work goes far beyond a mere critique of contemporary events. Historically remote developments, indeed, the birth of Western history and of subjectivity itself out of the struggle…


Who am I?

In a sense, I have been working on the material for my book, Life, Death, and Other Inconvenient Truths, for my entire life. The 38 short chapters that comprise it span a range of topics: alphabetically, from ambition and anxiety, through love and mathematics, to war and youth. For whatever it is worth, I have had first-hand experience (in three languages, on three continents) learning, researching, teaching, enjoying, suffering, and fighting — in other words, living — all but one of them (the exception is one that technically cannot be lived through, but can still be pondered and written about). My five recommendations reflect this life-long interest in the human condition, which I am excited to share with you.


I wrote...

Life, Death, and Other Inconvenient Truths: A Realist's View of the Human Condition

By Shimon Edelman,

Book cover of Life, Death, and Other Inconvenient Truths: A Realist's View of the Human Condition

What is my book about?

This book … is a kind of reference volume, a partial one for sure, for making sense of the human world and of the hard work of human soul-making, or simply life. The entries are cross-referenced and contain quite a few notes and pointers to primary sources, all collected at the end of the book. Each chapter ends with a list of films, music, stories, and places—any product of human endeavor or feature of the natural environment that may help illuminate its theme.

No synthesis is offered for the list of inconvenient truths collected here, for the simple reason that there isn’t—nor can there be—a single underlying cause that makes life what it is. If this book has a central thesis, it’s one that is neither a revelation, nor a secret: the human condition has much room for improvement. Working out possible ways of improving it is left as an exercise for the reader.

Or, view all 88 books about the Age of Enlightenment

New book lists related to the Age of Enlightenment

All book lists related to the Age of Enlightenment

Bookshelves related to the Age of Enlightenment