Diderot And The Art Of Thinking Freely



Coming January 2019

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 In the astonishing cache of unpublished writings left behind after his death, Diderot challenged virtually all of his century’s accepted truths, from the sanctity of monarchy, to the racial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



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 narrates with verve the story of Diderot’s life, but also his late masterpieces, unknown in their own time and written for posterity. Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely gives us, as hoped, a Diderot for today.
— Sophia Rosenfeld, author of Common Sense: A Political History
In this lively and elegantly crafted portrait of one of the eighteenth century’s greatest minds, Curran gives us a Diderot at once true to his times and intensely relevant to our own. It is a book that will both enlighten and entertain specialists and general readers alike.
— Darrin M. McMahon, author of Happiness: A History
Denis Diderot was many things—freethinking philosophe, tireless encyclopedist, trenchant art critic, iconoclastic dramatist, daring sexologist, spirited dialogist, and intimate adviser to Catherine the Great—and Andrew Curran brings them all vividly to life in this enlightening and engaging book.
— Michael Massing, author of Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind
Andrew Curran has given us an invigorating and wide-ranging new biography of the brilliant Encyclopédiste, bringing to life his complicated relationships and the ideas he explored throughout his protean intellectual career.
— Leo Damrosch, author of Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake