Denis Diderot has long been regarded as one of the leading figures of the French Enlightenment, thanks to his editorship of the influential multi-volume Encyclopédie
. As Andrew S. Curran explains in his biography Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely
(Other Press, 2019) however, this was just one product of his wide-ranging literary efforts. The son of a cutler, Diderot underwent training for a life in the church, only to abandon it for an uncertain literary career. Initially finding success as a translator, his early works gained Diderot both acclaim and led to his imprisonment for several months. It was soon after his release that Diderot began work on the Encyclopédie
, a years-long project that proved an important vehicle for spreading many of the ideas of the Enlightenment. Curran demonstrates that editing the Encyclopédie
served as a way for Diderot to advance his views while avoiding the brunt of the controversy they engendered, with many of his later, often radical works not published until many years after his death in 1784.
Andrew S. Curran
(Ph.D., New York University, 1996) is the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities and a member of Wesleyan University’s Romance Languages and Literatures department. In addition to Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely
, his major publications include an edited volume (Faces of Monstrosity in Eighteenth-Century Thought in Eighteenth-Century Life
) and two books: Sublime Disorder: Physical Monstrosity in Diderot’s Universe
(Voltaire Foundation, Oxford, 2001) and, more recently, The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment
(Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2011 / paper 2013). The Anatomy of Blackness
recently appeared in French translation (Anatomie de la noirceur
) at Classiques Garnier.