The bestselling author of How to Live and At the Existentialist Café explores seven hundred years of writers, thinkers, scientists, and artists, all trying to understand what it means to be truly human
Humanism is an expansive tradition of thought that places shared humanity, cultural vibrancy, and moral responsibility at the center of our lives. The humanistic worldview—as clear-eyed and enlightening as it is kaleidoscopic and richly ambiguous—has inspired people for centuries to make their choices by principles of freethinking, intellectual inquiry, fellow feeling, and optimism.
In this sweeping new history, Sarah Bakewell, herself a lifelong humanist, illuminates the very personal, individual, and, well, human matter of humanism andtakes readers on a grand intellectual adventure.
Voyaging from the literary enthusiasts of the fourteenth century to the secular campaigners of our own time, from Erasmus to Esperanto, from anatomists to agnostics, from Christine de Pizan to Bertrand Russell, and from Voltaire to Zora Neale Hurston, Bakewell brings together extraordinary humanists across history. She explores their immense variety: some sought to promote scientific and rationalist ideas, others put more emphasis on moral living, and still others were concerned with the cultural and literary studies known as “the humanities.” Humanly Possible asks not only what brings all these aspects of humanism together but why it has such enduring power, despite opposition from fanatics, mystics, and tyrants.
A singular examination of this vital tradition as well as a dazzling contribution to its literature, this is an intoxicating, joyful celebration of the human spirit from one of our most beloved writers. And at a moment when we are all too conscious of the world’s divisions, Humanly Possible—brimming with ideas, experiments in living, and respect for the deepest ethical values—serves as a recentering, a call to care for one another, and a reminder that we are all, together, only human.
About the Author
Sarah Bakewell had a wandering childhood, growing up on the “hippie trail” through Asia and in Australia. She studied philosophy at the University of Essex and worked for many years as a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library, London, before becoming a full-time writer. Her books include How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, which won the Duff Cooper Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and At the Existentialist Café, one of the New York Times’ Ten Best Books of 2016. Bakewell was also among the winners of the 2018 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize. She still has a tendency to wander but is mostly to be found either in London or in Italy with her wife and their family of dogs and chickens.
“NBCC Award winner Bakewell (How to Live) brilliantly tracks the development of humanism over seven centuries of intellectual history . . . Erudite and accessible, Bakewell’s survey pulls together diverse historical threads without sacrificing the up-close details that give this work its spark. Even those who already consider themselves humanists will be enlightened.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)