The Crisis of Reason European Thought, 1848–1914 J. W. Burrow

Yale Intellectual History of the West Series
Publication date:
10 Nov 2002
Yale University Press
304 pages: x 156mm
24 b-w illus.

This elegantly written book explores the history of ideas in Europe from the revolutions of 1848 to the beginning of the First World War. Broader than a straight survey, deeper and richer than a textbook, this work seeks to place the reader in the position of an informed eavesdropper on the intellectual conversations of the past.

J. W. Burrow first outlines the intellectual context of the mid-nineteenth century, using ideas taken from physics, social evolution, and social Darwinism, and anxieties about modernity and personal identity, to explore the impact of science and social thought on European intellectual life. The discussion encompasses powerful and fashionable concepts in evolution, art, myth, the occult, and the unconscious mind; the rise of the great cities of Berlin, Paris, and London; and the work of literary writers, philosophers, and composers. Most of the great intellectual figures of the age—and many of the lesser known—populate the book, among them Mill, Bakunin, Nietzsche, Bergson, Renan, Pater, Proust, Clough, Flaubert, Wagner, and Wilde. The author wears his erudition lightly, and this distinguished book will be both entertaining and accessible to scholars, students, and general readers alike.

J. W. Burrow is professor of European thought at Oxford University and fellow of Balliol College. Among his previous books are Evolution and Society, A Liberal Descent, and Gibbon.

?Burrow writes with wit, unfailing clarity, and astute observation. Few names are dropped without a penetrating comment, few subjects left unilluminated, and his illustrations are rare and imaginative.??John Andrew Bernstein, American Historical Review

? If only my university texts had been as worthy of note as The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848-1914, I might have managed higher marks. Part of Yale University Press? series on the Intellectual History of the West, J. W. Burrow?s book . . . documents the fascinations and obsessions of the period: racial biology, decadence and degeneracy, class and criminality. The Crisis of Reason is a broad cultural survey of a time of revolutionary change and great anxiety.??History Today 

?[S]o sweeping in conception, so persuasive in execution, and, simply, so well written. . . . Burrow?s superb study of a profoundly significant and formative period is a model of its kind. . . . [An] excellent book.??John Banville, New York Review of Books

?Burrow does an admirable job of balancing a mountain of fact with the comprehensibility of linked narratives in his account, and he presents a readable history of one of the most dynamic and controversial periods of European thought.??Virginia Quarterly Review