Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Wicked Company

It's the 1760s and Baron d'Holbach is hosting a very lively salon where philosophers meet. He's also busy writing for the Encyclopédie that his close friend Denis Diderot is editing and trying to get published. Which is not as easy as it sounds because the Encyclopédie is very much influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment and that brings it into conflict with the law.

A Wicked Company by Philipp Blom follows d'Holbach and Diderot through their life and introduces the reader to their views, to their work and last but not least to their friends and enemies (sometimes one and the same person). The list reads like a who is who of the Enlightenment: Voltaire, Rousseau, the Comte de Buffon, Spinoza, David Hume and many others. And because they may have been high-minded philosophers in writing, but had their fault and weaknesses in life like everyone else, there is a lot of material to create a vivid picture of all these people.

It's a delightful book that makes you feel like a part of the circle around d'Holbach. I always enjoy reading an author's work much more when I know something about them as a person and A Wicked Company is very good at teaching you about both author and work. It cannot be a complete introduction to all those philosophers and it doesn't try to be. But what it did was make me want to read more - now I've met all those people, I want to know what they themselves had to say.

19th book for the Library Challenge
Reviews 2013

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