Seeking recommendations for intellectual history
August 8, 2016 8:19 PM   Subscribe

I'd like references for books that describe the intellectual history of the past 200-odd years in the West, e.g. modernism, postmodernism, and whatever was before and after.

I'd like something written for a popular audience, not an academic one. I'm primarily interested in overall trends, not individuals. And I'm more interested in the consciousness of a typical citizen than that of an artist or intellectual.

posted by uninformative to Religion & Philosophy (6 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

Lipstick Traces, by Griel Marcus, an oldie but a goodie. Might be a bit too music oriented for you.
posted by frumiousb at 8:55 PM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Has been 20 years + since I read it, but I remember 'Reality Isn't What It Used To Be' being great!
posted by maupuia at 10:04 PM on August 8, 2016

Best answer: And I'm more interested in the consciousness of a typical citizen than that of an artist or intellectual.

I think you're asking for two somewhat different things here. Of course, some of the ideas of philosophers, theologians, and other sorts of theorists will feed into the broader culture (and vice versa), but usually intellectual history as a separate subdiscipline deals with...intellectuals of one stripe or another. Often this is simply a question of what materials are available for the historian. The average citizen doesn't usually leave a record of his struggles with ontology or the nature of the subject to permit close study--if he does, he's almost certainly not "average." To the extent that older intellectual histories claimed to survey the intellectual superstructure of an entire culture, that claim was usually founded on assumptions about the relationship between high and low which have not held up over time. Cultural history attempts to deal with more broadly-held, diffuse ideas in the populace, but, without getting all pedantic, I think it's safe to say that that's usually a somewhat different project. (I loved Lipstick Traces when I was a kid, but the number of punk fans who had even heard of Dada was probably very very low...)

Like, the first book that popped into my mind was Gary Gutting's Thinking the Impossible, about the famous postwar French theorists, but there is not an average citizen to be seen in its pages. There must be cultural histories of France at about the same time, but they will not show your average citizen grappling with the nature of the encounter with the face of the Other. Both interesting and valid projects, but difficult to contain within the same framework.
posted by praemunire at 10:17 PM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Not sure if it's exactly what you're looking for but I have read portions of, and enjoyed, both these books:

Ideas: A History of Thought From Fire to Freud (Peter Watson)
The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century (Peter Watson)
posted by hungrytiger at 12:02 AM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd second praemunire here.

While I'm nor exactly sure whether it falls within the constraints here, I would also give a recommendation of Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality Vol. 1, which covers the emergence of "sexuality" as a thing that we understand ourselves to have. (Or, at least, that French people understand themselves to have.) It's very readable, and short, only about 160 pages.
posted by migrantology at 3:07 PM on August 9, 2016

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