The Book Trade in the Age of Enlightenment
- Written by a renowned scholar in the history of the book and a trustee of the New York Public Library
- A rich and sweeping study of the world of writing, publishing, and bookselling in 18th-century France
- Examines how book piracy helped to expand literary culture
In the late-18th century, a group of publishers in what historian Robert Darnton calls the « Fertile Crescent » — countries located along the French border, stretching from Holland to Switzerland — pirated the works of prominent (and often banned) French writers and distributed them in France, where laws governing piracy were in flux and any notion of « copyright » very much in its infancy. Piracy was entirely legal and everyone acknowledged — tacitly or openly — that these pirated editions of works by Rousseau, Voltaire, and Diderot, among other luminaries, supplied a growing readership within France, one whose needs could not be met by the monopolistic and tightly controlled Paris Guild.
Darnton’s book focuses principally on a publisher in Switzerland, one of the largest and whose archives are the most complete. Through the lens of this concern, he offers a sweeping view of the world of writing, publishing, and especially bookselling in pre-Revolutionary France—a vibrantly detailed inside look at a cut-throat industry that was struggling to keep up with the times and, if possible, make a profit off them. Featuring a fascinating cast of characters — lofty idealists and down-and-dirty opportunists — this new book expands upon on Darnton’s celebrated work on book-publishing in France, most recently found in A Literary Tour de France. Pirating and Publishing reveals how and why piracy brought the Enlightenment to every corner of France, feeding the ideas that would explode into revolution.
Published: 04 October 2021