Synopses & Reviews
A Wicked Company tells the remarkable story of Baron Thierry Holbachs Parisian salon, an epicenter of freethinking that brought together the greatest minds of the 18th century. Over wine-soaked dinner parties, the finest intellectuals of the Western worldfigures such as Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Adam Smith, Horace Walpole, and Benjamin Franklinmatched wits and scandalized one another with their own ever-more-provocative ideas. Writers of genius all, full of wit and courage (but also personal contradictions, doubts, conflicts of conscience, and their fair share of open arguments and love affairs), this group of friends embodied an astonishing radicalism in European thought, so uncompromising and bold that its bracing, liberating, humanist vision has still not been fully realized. As acclaimed historian Philipp Blom shows, these thinkers analysis of our culture remains as valid as it was then, and has lost little of its potential to shockor to force us to confront with new eyes debates about our society and its future.
David Andress, author of The Terror and 1789
A Wicked Company offers an entertainingly brisk introduction to some of the more intriguing byways of the Enlightenment, and in particular a humane and engaging portrait of Diderot, a man of startlingly modern ideas constrained by his humble circumstances to an almost-stifling public discretion.”
Historian Blom returns with a flowing, limpid account of an 18th-century French salon that housed the greatest names in French philosophy.... A swift, readable reminder that ideas are exciting and have consequences.”
Mike Rapport, author of 1848
A bold book. In A Wicked Company, Philipp Blom recaptures some of the limelight from the most famous figures of the French Enlightenment Rousseau and Voltaire by arguing that the more radical ideas of Diderot and Holbach would have more resonance in our own times. Written with pace and verve, the book evokes the vibrancy of the Parisian salons, bringing the protagonists to life Diderot, Holbach, Rousseau, Hume, Madame de Geoffrin and puts flesh-and-blood into the story of eighteenth-century intellectual debate. While challenging the usual pantheon of Enlightenment thinkers, the book offers a lively and readable entry into the wider world of elite culture and ideas in the heady, exciting decades before the French Revolution.”
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Blom skillfully evokes the characters of these young men
. Mr. Bloms coupling of the lives of the philosophers with their thought helps make their ideas less desiccated than they might otherwise have appeared in the hands of a more academic writer. He has an admirable ability to get to the heart of what Spinoza, Hume or Voltaire argued.”
Tells the story of a set of remarkable individuals on the radical fringes of the 18th-century European Enlightenment, whose determinedly atheistic and materialist philosophies denied the existence of God or the soul.... [P]art biography and part polemic
it is also an iconoclastic rebuttal of what he describes as the official history of the Enlightenment, the sort of history that he finds cut in stone on a visit to the Paris Panthéon. There the bodies of Voltaire and Rousseau were laid to rest with the blessing of the French state. Neither deserved it, suggests Mr Blom.”
Blom here returns to the field of an earlier triumph
to take the measure of Encyclopedies editor, Denis Diderot.... A perceptive, readable portrayal of a seminal coterie in the history of ideas.”
Blom reminds us that some 18th-century reformers were thoroughgoing materialists, scoffing at religion, even deist religion, and criticizing an oppressive, irrational society.”
"Blom brings to life the Enlightenment-shaping debates in the salon of Baron Thierry Holbach
and conveys the high drama that went along with the intellectual debates that helped lay the foundation for the modern world.”
The French Enlightenments triumph of reason over religious dogma was plotted in an eighteenth-century Paris salon. Hosted by Baron Paul-Henri Thiry Holbach, the radical thinkers who gathered there included the philosophers Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Historian Philipp Blom revives their legacy and examines the rivalries that sprang up among the group with competitors such as the writer Voltaire. Their ideas about society and the natural world went on to influence politics and science globally.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
Bloms hugely enjoyable effort succeeds most in exposing readers to the ideas of a wide range of philosophers, from Epicurus to Kant; cleverly, Blom surrounds his medicine with titillating asides, from Rousseaus fetishes (exposing his bottom to female passers-by in Tunis in the hopes of getting slapped) to a selection from DAlemberts Dream that bears a marked resemblance to a certain café scene in When Harry Met Sally. To make philosophy accessible is the mark of a good writer; to make it exciting is the mark of a great one.”
The trick that Blom pulls off with such dazzling aplomb is to make the story he tells timely, compelling and occasionally even thrilling. This is partly because Blom is such a stylish and clever writer: his prose is as lucid and elegant as any of his 18th-century heroes. But its also because the history of dHolbach and his friends has a great deal to tell us about the way we live now. Most crucially, Blom describes how dHolbachs thought is predicated on the importance of challenging totalitarian systems, whether in religion or politics.... Bloms book is not only a pleasure to read but also a celebration of the real and material joys to be found in the godless universe.”
The American Spectator
[A]n erudite, detailed...account of the Paris literary salon where the wealthy Baron Paul Henri Thiry dHolbach wined and dined some of the most passionate of the Enlightened.”
The Independent (London)
Blom skilfully weaves his story around a large cast of characters, including Laurence Sterne, who influenced Diderot's sceptical novel Jacques le fataliste, David Hume, Adam Smith, the radical MP John Wilkes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.... Blom teases out the nuances of the group's ideas with considerable finesse.
The Spectator (London)
[A] quirky and original book.... Blom weaves their disparate lives and opinions together into a...coherent narrative.”
Times Literary Supplement (London)
[An] engaging portrait of the philosophes salons and social lives.”
Tales of infighting and romantic problems abound.... Blom definitely enlightens readers about how wicked people can be.... Recommended.”
The acclaimed author of The Vertigo Years tells the remarkable story of the Parisian salon that hosted the eighteenth centurys greatest minds and changed the course of Western philosophy
The flourishing of radical philosophy in Baron Thierry Holbachs Paris salon from the 1750s to the 1770s stands as a seminal event in Western history. Holbachs house was an international epicenter of revolutionary ideas and intellectual daring, bringing together such original minds as Denis Diderot, Laurence Sterne, David Hume, Adam Smith, Ferdinando Galiani, Horace Walpole, Benjamin Franklin, Guillaume Raynal, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
In A Wicked Company, acclaimed historian Philipp Blom retraces the fortunes of this exceptional group of friends. All brilliant minds, full of wit, courage, and insight, their thinking created a different and radical French Enlightenment based on atheism, passion, reason, and truly humanist thinking. A startlingly relevant work of narrative history, A Wicked Company forces us to confront with new eyes the foundational debates about modern society and its future.
Blom skillfully evokes the characters of these young men
. [His] coupling of the lives of the philosophes with their thought helps make their ideas less desiccated than they might otherwise have appeared in the hands of a more academic writer. He has an admirable ability to get to the heart of what Spinoza, Hume or Voltaire argued.”Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Philipp Blom was born in Hamburg and trained as a historian in Vienna and Oxford. He is the author of The Vertigo Years, Enlightening the World, and To Have And To Hold. He frequently contributes articles to the Financial Times, the Independent, and the Guardian among others. A host of cultural programming on Austrian National Radio, he lives in Vienna.