“[An] engrossing biography. . . sustained with appealing clarity and energy. In Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely. . . Curran reveals how this son of devoutly Catholic parents came to question the existence of God and how, from that radical premise, Diderot went on to question the legitimacy of the established church, the monarchy, sexual mores, aristocratic privileges, the slave trade and European colonization… Indeed, readers of this biography are likely to be impressed by the scope of Diderot’s thought and by his courage, as he risked persecution to ask and answer taboo questions, thereby making it easier, and safer, for us to do the same.”

—Scott Russell Sanders, Washington Post



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 In the astonishing cache of unpublished writings left behind after his death, Diderot challenged virtually all of his century’s accepted truths, from the sanctity of monarchy, to the racial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.

In this spirited account of the writer’s life and thought, 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 flaunt taboos, dogma, and convention.


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Praise for Diderot And The Art Of Thinking Freely


“. . .[A] marvelous account of the philosophe’s life and work. . . much more than a biography. . . Curran renders in vivid detail the social and intellectual life of 18th-century France. . . Equally fascinating are Curran’s summaries of Diderot’s remarkable contributions as art critic, playwright, and sexologist, the last represented by his outlandish novel Les bijoux indiscrets. . . Readers will be left with a new appreciation for Diderot, of his wide-ranging thought, and his life as an expression of intense intellectual freedom.”

Publishers Weekly, (starred review)


“Curran gamely sifts through the mountain of Diderot’s output—he was a prolific art critic, lead writer of the Encyclopédie, and an inveterate correspondent—without for a moment making it feel burdensome. Rather, he ably balances the details of Diderot’s life with thoughtful considerations of the source and depth of his philosophical byways, taking his more peculiar ideas seriously but not literally. . . 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)


“[A] spirited biography…[Curran] sweep[s] us up in Diderot’s words, his times, and his ideas. . .[a] fun read and a fascinating journey.”

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