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Main Currents of Western Thought

Readings in Western Europe Intellectual History from the Middle Ages to the Present
Fourth Edition

Edited by Franklin Le Van Baumer

View Inside Price: $40.00

September 10, 1978
808 pages, 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
ISBN: 9780300022339

Many disciplines create books of readings by the dozens; it is a rare event when a reader helps to create a discipline. On its publication in 1952, Main Currents of Western Thought did just that. “As of the moment, intellectual history is both popular and suspect,” Franklin Le Van Baumer wrote in his introduction, adding that it “currently enjoys something like a vogue on both sides of the Atlantic.” This same introduction, entitled “Methodology and Interpretation,” went far toward transforming a vogue into a respectable field of study by defining its goals and its methods, its problems and its pitfalls.
 In the quarter of a century since its first appearance, Main Currents has remained unquestionably the leading reader in its field. The illuminating short essays that introduce sections and subsections are well known, but the continuing usefulness of any reader depends upon the quality of its selections. Baumer has sought out passages that best represent and illuminate the ideas and preoccupations of each age. He has found them in the works of the great, including Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, Luther, Newton, Voltaire, Darwin, Whitehead, and Freud. But he has also discovered telling statements in writings less widely known: Ramón Lull on chivalry (13th century), Henry Peacham on “the complete gentleman” and Leonard Busher on religious liberty (both 17th century), Louis-René de la Chalotais on education (18th century), Samuel Smiles on “self-help” (19th century) and Virgil Gheorgiu on mechanization (20th century). 
Each of the previous editions of Main Currents has contained considerable new material. For this edition, the fourth, Baumer has rewritten the introductory essay to the section on “the age of anxiety” and the bibliographical note, and he has added thirteen new excerpts. Their authors range from Luther and Pascal to Bultmann, Bonhoeffer, and Heisenberg, enriching the earlier sections of the book and introducing three major figures of the 20th century.

“Baumer’s collection maps better than any other with which we are familiar the seminal and distinguishing ideological climates in western civilization.” – Seventeenth Century News

  “For the student of the contemporary scene the sections on intellectual history and the passages illustrative of it from the time of the philosophes of the eighteenth century to our own are absorbing in interest.”– R.D. Richardson, Speculum

 “An admirable model…[Baumer] deliberately cuts across several disciplines such as religion, political science, philosophy, science, and historical writing…The editorial comment is outstanding…For each of the main sections he has provided first-rate introductions which emphasize the ‘climate of opinion’ concept. Mr. Baumer can sketch the social setting of ideas, summarize the different interpretations of each period, and indicate what he considers to be the key words, terms, and symbols of the era in a manner that is thoroughly up to date without being biased of debunking.” – Wallace Evan Davies, American Quarterly

Main Currents of Western Thought is an outstanding volume—the selections are well chosen and the introductions to each of the chapters are expertly written. The volume is flexible and is usable in a variety of different courses in European History. There are tons of readers on the market for European History courses, but this one surpasses them all.”—John P. Irish, AP European History/AP U.S. History, James E. Taylor High School, Katy, Texas

Main Currents is a happy combination of comprehensive and informative introductory essays to each of the main periods, and a judicious selection of excerpts of writings from those periods.”—Francis Guth, Algoma University