A great book about an even greater book is a rare event in publishing. Robert Darnton's history of the Encyclopédie is such an occasion. The author explores some fascinating territory in the French genre of histoire du livre, and at the same time he tracks the diffusion of Enlightenment ideas. He is concerned with the form of the thought of the great philosophes as it materialized into books and with the way books were made and distributed in the business of publishing. This is cultural history on a broad scale, a history of the process of civilization. In tracing the publishing story of Diderot's Encyclopédie, Darnton uses new sources-the papers of eighteenth-century publishers-that allow him to respond firmly to a set of problems long vexing historians. He shows how the material basis of literature and the technology of its production affected the substance and diffusion of ideas. He fully explores the workings of the literary market place, including the roles of publishers, book dealers, traveling salesmen, and other intermediaries in cultural communication. How publishing functioned as a business, and how it fit into the political as well as the economic systems of prerevolutionary Europe are set forth.
In 1777 several of the world's greatest men gathered together to create a book that would champion rationalism, free thinking, and secularism--theEncyclopédie. Such leading minds as Diderot, Rousseau, and Voltaire conceived of a work that would tear down the social order dominated by the Crown and Church, a brave act at a time when heresy could still be punished by death. During the years it took to produce all twenty-seven volumes, the writers faced exile, jail, and censorship. But when they were done, they had created a book that would provide the foundation for the Enlightenment and change the world forever. Novelist and historian Philipp Blom presents the story behind the sixteen-year struggle to create theEncyclopédie, the men who wrote it, the powerful forces that tried to suppress it, and the tremendous impact it had on the world.