This panoramic book tells the story of how revolutionary ideas from the Enlightenment about freedom, equality, evolution, and democracy have reverberated through modern history and shaped the world as we know it today.
A testament to the enduring power of ideas, The Shape of the New offers unforgettable portraits of Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Darwin, and Karl Marx—heirs of the Enlightenment who embodied its highest ideals about progress—and shows how their thoughts, over time and in the hands of their followers and opponents, transformed the very nature of our beliefs, institutions, economies, and politics. Yet these ideas also hold contradictions. They have been used in the service of brutal systems such as slavery and colonialism, been appropriated and twisted by monsters like Stalin and Hitler, and provoked reactions against the Enlightenment’s legacy by Islamic Salafists and the Christian Religious Right.
The Shape of the New argues that it is impossible to understand the ideological and political conflicts of our own time without familiarizing ourselves with the history and internal tensions of these world-changing ideas. With passion and conviction, it exhorts us to recognize the central importance of these ideas as historical forces and pillars of the Western humanistic tradition. It makes the case that to read the works of the great thinkers is to gain invaluable insights into the ideas that have shaped how we think and what we believe.
Awards and Recognition
- One of The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015
- One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2016
- One of Bloomberg Businessweek’s Best Books of 2015, chosen by Diana Farrell
Scott L. Montgomery is an affiliate faculty member in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Daniel Chirot is professor of Russian and Eurasian studies at the University of Washington.
"I was struck again and again by the extraordinary breadth, erudition and lucidity of this book."—Fareed Zakaria, New York Times Book Review
"This is a gem of a book in that it has the audacity to paint in big strokes to portray a great intellectual history that puts our often competing, current belief systems into their 18th and 19th century contexts. In light of the increasingly perplexing news headlines, this type of bold context setting is a real gift."—Diana Farrell, President and chief executive officer, JPMorgan Chase Institute in Bloomberg Best Books of 2015
"Montgomery and Chirot offer a sweeping defense of intellectual liberalism and an examination of its indelible influence on the modern world. . . . Thoughtful, highly readable, and provocative."—Choice
"The Shape of the New is recommended to readers, scholars and intellectuals seeking a comprehensive debate on the intellectual and political transformations in the contemporary world by enlightened perspective."—Emrah Kekilli, Insight Turkey
"This is a wonderful book. Montgomery and Chirot combine double-barreled scholarship, lucid prose, and considerable wisdom to offer us a fascinating excursion into the history of ideas. For anyone who wants to understand today's emerging conflicts—and what it will take for Enlightenment liberalism again to prevail—The Shape of the New is essential reading."—Jeffrey Gedmin, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
"The Shape of the New is an ambitious book and a joy to read. The scholarship is brilliant. In contextualizing the great ideas of modern history, Montgomery and Chirot provide a holistic framework with which to understand the processes of social change and ideological conflict."—Paul Froese, coauthor of America's Four Gods: What We Say about God—and What That Says about Us
"This fantastic book offers an impressively learned and evenhanded treatment of the Enlightenment's key ideas and the reactions to them over the past two centuries. I guarantee that anyone who reads it will be a lot smarter, more cultured, and a far more intellectually interesting dinner companion."—Zoltan Barany, author of The Soldier and the Changing State: Building Democratic Armies in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas
"This important book demonstrates the power of Enlightenment ideas, how they have shaped the world we live in, and how they have created systems of both action and reaction through time. It should be widely read by students, educators, and others who think that there is no need to teach classical thinkers or that their era is over."—Karen Barkey, author of Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective