Although it has already attracted a series of reverent reviews befitting a work by one of today’s most eminent practitioners of history, this book is still more important than it looks. Gertrude Himmelfarb has called her latest volume Roads to Modernity: The British, French and American Enlightenments. It can be read as a provocative and persuasive revision not only of the intellectual era that made the modern world, but also of the concepts that still largely determine how we think about human affairs today.

In particular, it explains the source of the fundamental division that, despite several predictions of its imminent demise, still doggedly grips Western political life: that between the left and the right. From the outset, each side had its own philosophical assumptions and its own view of the human condition. Roads to Modernity shows why one of these sides has generated a steady progeny of historical...


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