Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Father of the Encyclopedia turns 300

“Only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things” (Denis Diderot).

Denis Diderot, an 18th century French philosopher used his great passions to achieve, at the time, a revolutionary ambition. A boundless pioneer during the French Enlightenment, Diderot became the driving force for an encyclopedia that many believe changed the course of history. The ideas circulated in the Encyclopédie as the French would say, and helped lay the foundation for the French Revolution. This month marks his 300th birthday, and reminder of his most influential work.

A philosopher between Rousseau and Voltaire, Diderot had a hard time making a name for himself. Today, his image has shifted, and scholars and writers abroad have praised him for his work.

Diderot devoted 20 years and 100 writers to build his first 28-volume encyclopedia.  Three hundred years later, his first leather bound encyclopedia is still displayed in the Sorbonne library.  In an interview with the library’s director, National Public Radio’s Christopher Werth gains some perspective on the impact of Diderot’s work,“Today everybody knows Google. The major invention of the Encyclopédie is the same system: The cross- reference is a way of making a kind of web out of the knowledge.”

 Diderot’s passion and devotion for his work has been evident to many. Caroline Warman, a French scholar at the University of Oxford sums its up best. The simplest of entries can lead readers on a wild journey.  There really is nothing more we as readers could ask for, and thanks to Diderot we can take those adventures whenever we like.   
Today, we celebrate and honor Denis Diderot’s memory and wish this folk hero a Happy Birthday!

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