Throughout the month of November, Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness and Leslie from Regular Rumination are hosting a series of posts to promote nonfiction. The topic of this week’s post is “Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert.” Once I decided I wanted to take part in this online discussion, I thought about taking the Be the Expert route and spotlighting five to six books on the Middle East. Since I’ve been fascinated by that region of the world for years, I’ve read more books about the Middle East than I can remember. Over the last several years I’ve taken part in the Middle East Reading Challenge and this year I’m serving as host, after Helen passed me the baton last December. But the more I thought I about it, the more I realized that having an interest in something does not necessarily make one an expert. I’ll admit, I’ve read more than my share of books on this subject, but I ain’t no expert. And seriously, can anyone REALLY be an expert on that crazy part of the world known as the Middle East? I mean, come on? Really?
So I decided to take a different approach. Some of you have probably guessed from reading my blog that I’m quite interested in history. Judging by what I’ve posted, you’ve probably also guessed I’m pretty much all over the place when it comes to what kind of history interests me. Sometimes it’s WWII, sometimes it’s European and sometimes it’s American. One era of history I’ve been wanting to learn more about is the period known at the Enlightenment. While I’ve never read any books that solely focused the Enlightenment, I have encountered more than a few books that contained at least a passing reference to the period and its significance. Our modern oracle Wikipedia describes the Age of Enlightenment as such:
The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment or Age of Reason) was a cultural movement of intellectuals beginning in the late 17th and 18th century Europe emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism, and intellectual interchange. It opposed superstition and intolerance. Some Enlightenment philosophes collaborated with Enlightened despots, who were absolute rulers who tried out some of the new governmental ideas in practice. The ideas of the Enlightenment have had a long-term major impact on the culture, politics, and governments of the Western world.
With a description like that, how can I go wrong? Therefore, in order to learn about this important and seminal era of history, I’ve put together a list of books I want to read over the course of next year that hopefully will help give me a greater understanding of the Age of Enlightenment. Also, here’s the really cool thing – I already own copies of them! They’ve all been sitting in my personal library ignored and unread – some of them for years! Nothing to buy, borrow from friends or check-out from the public library. What a deal!
- The Seventeenth Century Background: The Thought of the Age in Relation to Religion and Poetry by Basil Willey – Originally published back in 1934, Willey’s book has been touted as a look at the influences on the thought and work of such luminaries as Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes and Locke.
- The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism by Peter Gay – Since this one won the 1967 National Book Award I’m optimistic his “fully rounded account” the Enlightenment’s “true accomplishments” will be a great book.
- The Empire of Reason: How Europe Imagined and America Realized the Enlightenment by Henry Steele Commager – This 1977 National Book Award Nominee is a look at the European Enlightenment’s influence upon early America and why those ideas ultimately found greener pastures in America as opposed to Europe.
- The Age of Voltaire: A History of Civilization in Western Europe from 1715 to 1756 by Will and Ariel Durant- Published in 1965, this tome from the Durant’s classic The Story of Civilization series will entail a lot of reading. But in the end, will be worth it.
- Rousseau and Revolution: A History of Civilization in France, England, and Germany from 1756, and in the Remainder of Europe from 1715 to 1789 – Also by the Durants, this contribution to the series won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967.
- A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment
There you have it, six books as part of my little Enlightenment Project. As I’m reading these books I plan to ask myself a few questions. I’d like to know not just how the Age of Enlightenment came to be, but why. I also want to learn about its legacy. How has it shaped the West, as well as the rest of the world? Hopefully, these questions and others will be answered as I strive to become “the expert.”