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  • Published: 15 December 2020
  • ISBN: 9781635420395
  • Imprint: Other Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528
  • RRP: $34.99

Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely




Best Book of the Year – Kirkus Reviews

A spirited biography of the prophetic and sympathetic philosopher who helped build the foundations of the modern world.

Denis Diderot is often associated with the decades-long battle to bring the world’s first comprehensive Encyclopédie into existence. But his most daring writing took place in the shadows. Thrown into prison for his atheism in 1749, Diderot decided to reserve his best books for posterity–for us, in fact. In the astonishing cache of unpublished writings left behind after his death, Diderot challenged virtually all of his century's accepted truths, from the sanctity of monarchy, to the racial justification of the slave trade, to the norms of human sexuality. One of Diderot’s most attentive readers during his lifetime was Catherine the Great, who not only supported him financially, but invited him to St. Petersburg to talk about the possibility of democratizing the Russian empire.

In this thematically organized biography, Andrew S. Curran vividly describes Diderot’s tormented relationship with Rousseau, his curious correspondence with Voltaire, his passionate affairs, and his often iconoclastic stands on art, theater, morality, politics, and religion. But what this book brings out most brilliantly is how the writer's personal turmoil was an essential part of his genius and his ability to flout taboos, dogma, and convention.

  • Published: 15 December 2020
  • ISBN: 9781635420395
  • Imprint: Other Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528
  • RRP: $34.99

Praise for Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely

“Engrossing…a narrative sustained with appealing clarity and energy…readers of this biography are likely to be impressed by the scope of Diderot’s thought and by his courage.” —Washington Post “Making sense of these mercurial works is not easy, and situating them in such a life as Diderot’s is even more challenging, so it is remarkable that…Curran succeeds admirably in both regards…the most accessible version of the life and work of this protean figure…excellent.” —New York Review of Books “Curran does a terrific job of sorting through the crazily complicated history of the Encyclopédie’s publication…[a] revivifying new book.” —The New Yorker “[The Encyclopédie’s] publication history is elegantly untangled by Mr. Curran, whose clear style and interest in the psychology of it all transforms it into a lively narrative…you are bound to be exhilarated by [Diderot’s] creativity.” —Wall Street Journal “A clear and compelling account of this magnificent but mercurial thinker…With confidence and care, Curran traces Diderot’s breathtaking intellectual itinerary…cogent and insightful.” —Los Angeles Review of Books “[A] marvelous account of the philosophe’s life and work. But this is much more than a biography, as Curran renders in vivid detail the social and intellectual life of eighteenth-century France…Readers will be left with a new appreciation for Diderot.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “A lively biography…An intellectually dense and well-researched yet brisk journey into one of history’s most persuasive dissenters.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) “Absorbing…In this extremely well-written biography, Curran vividly portrays Diderot as a brilliant man filled with contradictions and passions who acted as a central figure in the advancement of intellectual freedom.” —BookPage (starred review) “In this new biography, Curran looks to remind us just what a radical Diderot was in his time.” —New York Times Book Review “[Curran’s] fluent and spirited book surpasses its predecessor in finding a center of gravity in the Enlightenment’s most kaleidoscopic thinker.” —New Republic “A triumphant work…intelligent and highly readable.” —NB “Curran’s critical biography…grapples dexterously with the ramifications of Diderot’s more original philosophy.” —New Criterion  “Deeply researched and absorbing.” —The American Scholar “A fascinating biography of Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot—one of history’s most famous contrarians.” —Business Insider “This enjoyable biography of French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784) engages with the life of this man who was imprisoned for his atheism—and with his ideas, which brashly challenged beliefs about religion, race, royalty, sex and morality.” —Newsday “As befits the biography of an author who labored to make his treatment of ponderous philosophical questions as amusing as possible, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely entertains…More than a biography, it constitutes a stepping stone into the French Enlightenment.” History Today   “[A] lucid biography…Curran is particularly attuned to the theme of illusion in Diderot’s life and work, and how some of Diderot’s most powe

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