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Paris savant, Capital of Science in the Age of the Enlightenment

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Bruno Belhoste, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 328 pages, juillet 2019. 

Novelist Honoré de Balzac was the first to use the phrase “Paris savant” to refer to the dynamic Parisian scientific and intellectual community of the late 18th century. The Academy of Sciences was highly active during this time, and was a meeting place for intellectual and scientific elite, who worked together toward the diffusion of scientific knowledge into Parisian society. The Royal Observatory was a headquarters for French astronomy, as well as the great geodesic project to map all of France. The Royal Mint hosted courses in chemistry and mining, and the Arsenal near the Bastille housed the laboratory of Lavoisier, the most celebrated chemist of the age.

This book is the English translation of Bruno Belhoste’s Paris savant. Parcours et rencontres au temps des Lumières, originally published in France in 2011 (Armand Colin Publisher). Belhoste discusses how the Parisian scientific community came into its important place in the French Enlightenment, focusing on the Academy of Sciences. Chapters cover subjects such as what role Parisian geography played in the movement, the contributions of French scientists to industrial and urban improvement, and how the Academy of Sciences clashed with the revolutionary crisis, resulting in its closing in 1793. The translation includes a prologue for English readers.

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