Although The Age of Enlightenment was specifically designed as a combined course reader and anthology for the Open University Course A204 it should be of considerable interest both to other students of the period and to the general reader wanting to get to grips with this fascinating age, not secondhand through a history textbook, but directly through the actual writing of the time. In this, students of the eighteenth century are particularly fortunate, for many of its greatest thinkers and conversationalists were also outstanding stylists whose writings are as entertaining as they are important.
The Age of Enlightenment exploits this attractive characteristic by including a considerable quantity of material from such figures as Gibbon, Hume, Adam Smith, Johnson, Voltaire, Buffon, Diderot and D'Alembert. To give the reader an idea of the intellectual context in which these writers worked, the major texts are backed up by a wealth of additional material (much of it no longer easily available) which reflects the wide range of issues and styles characteristic of the eighteenth century.
Although not rigidly sub-divided into sections the excerpts have been selected to illustrate certain major themes; the concept of the 'classic' in literature, religion and the debate about Providence; political and economic matters; the Roman Empire and its legacy; architecture; interior decoration and painting; systematic knowledge and science; the problem of patronage. To make this anthology even more accessible each excerpt has its own introduction and is accompanied, where necessary, by explanatory footnotes.