The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America
by Richard B. Sher
University of Chicago Press, 2007
Paper: 978-0-226-75253-2 | Cloth: 978-0-226-75252-5 | eISBN: 978-0-226-75254-9
Library of Congress Classification Z326.S54 2006
Dewey Decimal Classification 070.50941109033
Reference metadata exposed for Zotero via unAPI.
The late eighteenth century witnessed an explosion of intellectual activity in Scotland by such luminaries as David Hume, Adam Smith, Hugh Blair, William Robertson, Adam Ferguson, James Boswell, and Robert Burns. And the books written by these seminal thinkers made a significant mark during their time in almost every field of polite literature and higher learning throughout Britain, Europe, and the Americas.
In this magisterial history, Richard B. Sher breaks new ground for our understanding of the Enlightenment and the forgotten role of publishing during that period. The Enlightenment and the Book seeks to remedy the common misperception that such classics as The Wealth of Nations and The Life of Samuel Johnson were written by authors who eyed their publishers as minor functionaries in their profession. To the contrary, Sher shows how the process of bookmaking during the late eighteenth-century involved a deeply complex partnership between authors and their publishers, one in which writers saw the book industry not only as pivotal in the dissemination of their ideas, but also as crucial to their dreams of fame and monetary gain. Similarly, Sher demonstrates that publishers were involved in the project of bookmaking in order to advance human knowledge as well as to accumulate profits.
The Enlightenment and the Book explores this tension between creativity and commerce that still exists in scholarly publishing today. Lavishly illustrated and elegantly conceived, it will be must reading for anyone interested in the history of the book or the production and diffusion of Enlightenment thought.
Richard B. Sher is Distinguished Professor of History at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is the author of Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment: The Moderate Literati of Edinburgh.
“The Enlightenment and the Book is the missing link in the history of publishing. It connects the traditions of Britain and America and explains how the people and practices of the book trade shaped the very culture of intellectual tolerance that defined the Enlightenment. This is a remarkable achievement of social and intellectual history that will become a classic.”<Barbara M. Benedict, author of Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry>— Barbara Benedict
“Sher provides a richly detailed map of the Scottish Enlightenment’s progress across the Atlantic, using book history as a navigational tool. Historians of the book in America will find here a wealth of new information and a fresh transatlantic perspective on the development of book publishing in the late eighteenth century.”<James N. Green, Library Company of Pennsylvania and coauthor of Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer>— James N. Green
"In 1757, when philosopher David Hume boasted that the Scots were "the People most distinguish'd for Literature in Europe," he was undoubtedly pitching it a bit strong. But as Sher notes in his conclusion to this mammoth and definitive work, "less than fifty years later that boast had considerably more merit than most contemporaries might have thought possible when it was first uttered." At its core, this is a painstaking investigation of how Scotland became a wellspring of Enlightenment books, an achievement Sher argues came about through the efforts of authors and publishers who shared and benefited from a complex and symbiotic relationship. The book is divided into three parts, with Part 1 focusing on the authors of Scottish Enlightenment books (e.g., John Gregory, Adam Smith), Part 2 looking at the principal publishers of these works in London and Edinburgh (e.g., Andrew Millar, William Strahan), and Part 3 examining the reprinting of these works by publishers in Dublin and Philadelphia. An appendix features seven tables that organize the data on the people and works discussed throughout. This extraordinary work of scholarship is essential for all research libraries."— Library Journal
"A monumental achievement"
"This elegant study . . . transforms our understanding of eighteenth-century book making. It brilliantly succeeds as a fusion of the history of ideologies with the history of the material circumstances of textual production."