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Mind over matter

It’s impossible not to be impressed by Jonathan Israel’s 3,000-page Enlightenment trilogy, but its central argument remains unconvincing

By Samuel Moyn   August 2011

Democratic Enlightenment by Jonathan Israel (OUP, £30)

It is finished: no one for 40 years had tried to narrate the entire history of the Enlightenment and now Jonathan Israel, delivering the third part of his triptych, has done it. With astonishing speed, he has told a tale of monumental scope (and forbidding length). In his massive volumes beginning in 2001, Israel, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, has probably written more and with greater erudition than anyone in living memory; like its predecessor, this one tops 1,000 pages.

You can’t write this much in so short…

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