Cover: The Irish Enlightenment, from Harvard University PressCover: The Irish Enlightenment in HARDCOVER

The Irish Enlightenment

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Product Details


$41.00 • £32.95 • €37.00

ISBN 9780674045774

Publication Date: 05/02/2016


640 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


Impressively detailed scholarship… Brown…has written a big, brave and important book. He has authoritatively shown that a debate about enlightenment took place in Ireland and that the debate was in part constitutive of the phenomenon itself.—David Dwan, The Times Literary Supplement

[Brown] demonstrates the existence of a significant Enlightenment project in Ireland in the 18th century, a project premised on the basic humanist principle that ‘man, not God, is the starting point of understanding.’ In so doing, Brown recommends that we go beyond the received view of Ireland as a culture crippled by sectarian politics and restore its intellectual heritage within a more capacious horizon of European and Atlantic history. Against the colonial prejudice that saw Ireland as a place of mayhem and barbarism, Brown constructs a counter-narrative of a vibrant intellectual culture informed by ideas of civility and tolerance. He claims that an important Irish Enlightenment flourished for a period between the War of the Two Kings (James and William, 1688–1691) and the 1790s, before regressing into conflicts of ethnic and religious identity in the 19th century… This controversial reading of the modern Irish mind is a very welcome addition to the ongoing 2016 debates about where Ireland comes from and where it hopes to go.—Richard Kearney, The Irish Times

Masterfully guided by Brown, whose comprehensive gaze embraces books both canonical and obscure, texts written in Gaelic as well as those written in English, works written by women and men, and writings emerging from all fractions of society, we are led to see traces of Enlightenment in the most unlikely places. This is exemplary history. It both reformulates an important problem, and draws swathes of new material into the scholarly conversation.—David Womersley, Standpoint

The Irish Enlightenment has always been seen as something of a poor relation to its English and Scottish siblings. Michael Brown’s groundbreaking book explodes the caricature, revealing how Irish thinkers and writers had a passionate ‘commitment to a life of the mind’ that matched anything elsewhere in Europe or the Americas. Bold engagement with social, religious and political issues revealed an Ireland that was most certainly not ‘in a moribund, catatonic state.’The Catholic Herald

As Michael Brown points out in The Irish Enlightenment, Jonathan Swift, George Berkeley, and Edmund Burke are among several writers who gave the age of reason a distinct Irish accent.—Brendan Walsh, The Tablet

With The Irish Enlightenment, Brown has produced a distinctive, illuminating and often challenging synthesis, with which historians both of Ireland and of the wider Enlightenment need to engage… Above all, The Irish Enlightenment leaves its readers enlightened.—Robert Armstrong, History Today

A comprehensive survey of this understudied field.—M. G. Spencer, Choice

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