What causes revolutions? How does public opinion influence events? This work answers these questions by asking what the French people read in the 18th century. The answer lies only partially in the canon of the great Enlightenment philosophers: Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu, Rousseau. More popular than these works were other books bought and sold "under the cloak". Salacious, blasphemous, often pornographic and treasonous, these formed a libertine literature that undercut all the orthodox values of the old regime. This history of these books, and of the booksellers who sold them, presents an idiosyncratic guide to the ancien regime and its citizens.
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In this remarkable book, Robert Darnton addresses one of the classic 'big questions' of history – what caused the French Revolution? – by beginning with a query of a different order, a more manageable one that can be answered: what did the French read in the years leading up to the Revolution? The answer lies only partially in the canon of the great Enlightenment 'philosophes': Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu, Rousseau. More popular than these works, indeed the best-sellers of the time, were the salacious, blasphemous, often pornographic and treasonous books sold 'under the cloak' which formed a libertine literature that undercut all the orthodox values of the Ancien Regime. Drawing on twenty-five years of research, Darnton's history of these books, and of the booksellers who sold them, presents an idiosyncratic and iconoclastic guide to the Ancien Regime and its citizens, and a highly original study of pre-Revolutionary morals and manners.
"Dry? Not a bit. This book is wonderfully stimulating, buzzing with ideas, gossip, stories, contradictions, and stoic resistance to the temptations of dogma and theory. The great pleasure of reading Darnton is that the journey is instructive and entertaining even when you never arrive."
MICHAEL RATCLIFFE, 'Observer'
"Robert Darnton has drilled a peep-hole into the extraordinary world of French illegal literature before the Revolution – a world where abstract philosophy and political theory rubbed shoulders with anti-clerical satire, utopian fantasy, political slander and pornography… This book was worth waiting for: it's imaginative, thorough and bold, and written with real flair. The only surprise, in fact, is that it is quite such fun."
BEN ROGERS, 'Independent on Sunday'
"The literate culture of the period is the focus of Darnton's life's work. He illuminates it with assiduous scholarship, incisive thought, judicious argument, sensitive reading and stylish writing … it makes his books delightful."
FELIPE FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO, 'Independent'
"Because he is at once scholarly and compellingly readable, the urge to compare Darnton's work with that of Simon Schama on the same period of intellectual and social ferment in France is irresistible."
LISA JARDINE, 'THES'
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Book Description Harper Collins Publishers, 1997. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110002558351
Book Description Harper Collins Publishers, 1997. Paperback. Book Condition: New. New item. Bookseller Inventory # QX-131-15-0242000