The Shape of the New

The Shape of the New

Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World

Book - 2015
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Examines "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"
Publisher: Princeton : Princeton University Press, [2015]
ISBN: 9780691150642
Branch Call Number: History 909.4 Mon
Additional Contributors: Chirot, Daniel


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Jul 27, 2017

This is a profound book, on the New York Times list of notable books of 2015. It is mainly about Adam Smith (capitalism), Jefferson and Hamilton (democracy), Marx (socialism), and Darwin (evolution). All were inspired by the Enlightenment of the 18th century, which promoted reason, science, and tolerance. Promoting the opposite principles, irrationality, anti-science, and bigotry, is the Counter-Enlightenment, still going on.

Among the things, I learned: Although Adam Smith is famous for the "invisible hand," whereby private greed promotes public good, he also supported government programs to help the poor.

Although Jefferson influenced the Constitution, he was not in favor of dogmatic adherence to it. He wrote, in his usual eloquent style, "Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence. . . .We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. . . . Let us [therefore] avail ourselves of reason and experience, to correct the crude essays of our first and unexperienced, although wise, virtuous, and well-meaning councils." (pp. 263-264).

Although Darwin promoted "survival of the fittest," he would not have condoned the evils of the eugenics movement, culminating in genocide.

Understanding the ideas in this book, their friends and enemies, enables the reader to understand modern life.

Sep 17, 2016

I saw this on a ‘best books’ list at the end of 2015. It seemed like a good one to read this election year, given the very different views expressed by those running for office.

I didn’t have a liberal arts education; this book put many ideas I might have learned there in my hands. I’ve read a lot on Darwin, but little on Alexander Hamilton. So young, so brilliant. I’ll read more about him.


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