• The Enlightenment

  • The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790
  • By: Ritchie Robertson
  • Narrated by: Jonathan Keeble
  • Length: 40 hrs and 9 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (183 ratings)

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The Enlightenment

By: Ritchie Robertson
Narrated by: Jonathan Keeble
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Publisher's Summary

A magisterial history that recasts the Enlightenment as a period not solely consumed with rationale and reason, but rather as a pursuit of practical means to achieve greater human happiness.

One of the formative periods of European and world history, the Enlightenment is the fountainhead of modern secular Western values: religious tolerance; freedom of thought, speech, and the press; of rationality and evidence-based argument. Yet why, over 300 years after it began, is the Enlightenment so profoundly misunderstood as controversial, the expression of soulless calculation? The answer may be that, to an extraordinary extent, we have accepted the account of the Enlightenment given by its conservative enemies: that enlightenment necessarily implied hostility to religion or support for an unfettered free market, or that this was “the best of all possible worlds”. Ritchie Robertson goes back into the “long 18th century”, from approximately 1680 to 1790, to reveal what this much-debated period was really about.

Robertson returns to the era’s original texts to show that above all, the Enlightenment was really about increasing human happiness - in this world rather than the next - by promoting scientific inquiry and reasoned argument. In so doing Robertson chronicles the campaigns mounted by some Enlightened figures against evils like capital punishment, judicial torture, serfdom, and witchcraft trials, featuring the experiences of major figures like Voltaire and Diderot alongside ordinary people who lived through this extraordinary moment.

In answering the question "What is Enlightenment?" in 1784, Kant famously urged men and women above all to “have the courage to use your own intellect”. Robertson shows how the thinkers of the Enlightenment did just that, seeking a well-rounded understanding of humanity in which reason was balanced with emotion and sensibility. Drawing on philosophy, theology, historiography, and literature across the major western European languages, The Enlightenment is a master-class in big picture history about the foundational epoch of modern times. 

©2020 Ritchie Robertson (P)2020 HarperAudio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about The Enlightenment

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The quickest 40 hour audio book I’ve listen to

Fantastically written book! I almost didn’t get it because of the sheer size of it, but the way the author masterfully organized and laid out the information was done so well it constantly kept me interested. One of the best history books I’ve ever read.

20 people found this helpful

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An Expertly Organized and Presented Topic

Destroys the notion that academics can't compose engaging prose.

The Enlightenment comes to life with little details about titans and ordinary folks of the period. A complex subject that the writer presents in a engaging manner. Highly recommended.

4 people found this helpful

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Fascinating review of the arguments that shaped capitalism and modern America

The ideas are presented clearly. Only for about three hours did I wonder where this was going. Afterward, my mind wandered only from fatigue.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent Book!

Did you ever want a comprehensive book on the Enlightenment? Well folks look no further! Terrific production value with an outstanding narrator but most of all, content that is top notch. Want to learn and be entertained at the same time then this is for you!

1 person found this helpful

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It's a lot, as it should be

Excellent, detailed, well researched. It's a good book, but one I'm glad I listened to instead of trying to read. It's dense and occasionally plodding but all for the better understanding of the subject. Vital for understanding the modern world.

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detailed and nuanced

This is exactly what I was looking for. A detailed, nuanced description of what may be the most important period of human history.

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Informative, interesting and entertaining

Great narration of an important period of time and thought, with a well-laid out story which is applicable to our times and the challenges presented in our current problems such as maintaining peace and tackling environmental issues.

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Great overview

This was better than expected as author knows how to tell history stories in a compelling way, not always emphasizing what you’d expect.
Only quibble is narrator who has lovely voice but mangles Latin & French & even English at times, w/o losing confidence as he glibly repeats errors & makes new ones.
The book’s good enough to stay with it even so, tho it is irritating & amazing —he must have assured Audible that he is a polyglot but maybe reading/writing, not speaking. Ouch.

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Complete but repetitive

This gigantic summary of the enlightenment is well researched and encompasses numerous topics. It is however quite repetitive (it seems like the word ‘despotism’ has to appear every 5 sentences).

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  • AM
  • 08-14-22

A must read on the history of Enlightement

I greatly enjoyed this book. The huge erudition of the author and the depth of the analysis is enormously valuable to understand this historic period, especially for Europeans. I bought also the paper version to come back to some sections that were particularly interesting or (see below) difficult to understand. Overall, a rare gem in the landscape of cultural histories.

Unfortunately the narrator leaves much to be desired. Especially the pronunciation of the numerous German, Latin and French citations is simply atrocious (especially for someone who speaks all three languages) and ruins entire sections of the book where the listener has to mentally stop to think what the narrator meant, instead of following the narration.