Cover image for George Washington's false teeth : an unconventional guide to the eighteenth century
George Washington's false teeth : an unconventional guide to the eighteenth century
Darnton, Robert.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Co., [2003]

Physical Description:
xv, 208 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DC33.4 .D36 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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George Washington was inaugurated as president in 1789 with one tooth in his mouth, a lower left bicuspid. The Father of His Country had sets of false teeth that were made of everything but wood, from elephant ivory and walrus tusk to the teeth of a fellow human. Darnton shows in this title that the Enlightenment had false teeth also - that it was not the Father of the Modern World, responsible for all its advances and transgressions. In restoring the Enlightenment to a human scale, Darnton locates its real aims, ambitions and significance. So too with the French Revolution, another icon of the 18th century, approached here through the gossip, songs and broadsides that formed the political nervous system of Paris during the ancien regime. Figures that we think we know - Voltaire, Jefferson, Rousseau, Condorcet, even historians themselves emerge afresh in Darnton's hands, their vitality, if not their teeth intact.

Author Notes

Robert Darnton is the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of European History at Princeton University.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

As Princeton history professor Darnton notes in his introduction, "everything about the eighteenth century is strange, once you examine it in detail." His pleasingly eccentric book of essays offers many surprising supporting examples. But this isn't a mere laundry list of oddities; Darnton is thoughtful and engaging in his historical analysis of the Enlightenment, and his narrative, in which he occasionally appears in the musing, professorial first person, will absorb the educated lay reader. In "The News in Paris," Darnton considers how news was disseminated in the city in 1750. It was not, he says, through newspapers, "because papers with news in them-news as we understand it today, about public affairs and prominent persons-did not exist. The government did not allow them." He traces the complicated methods by which court gossip and political machinations spread throughout the Parisian populace, concluding that 21st-century Washington resembles 18th-century Paris in its focus on "political folklore" and the private lives of leaders instead of the platforms they espouse. In "The Great Divide," Darnton records Rousseau's early picaresque adventures and then shows how the great philosopher (and "first anthropologist") came to regard civilization as a "process of corruption," and later to champion a patriotic civil religion. Throughout, Darnton uses the 18th century to provide "historical perspective to current questions"-about, for example, the shifting of European identity and the Internet's influence on information sharing-and openly ruminates about the problems of being a historian. This is a well-researched and sharply intelligent book, and Darnton is a knowledgeable and delightful guide to the time period. 17 b&w illustrations (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This is a refreshing and stimulating collection of essays by one of the preeminent historians of the 18th century. Intended for informed lay readers and academics alike, the collection teaches us as much about writing and approaching history as it does about the specific period under review. Darnton (history, Princeton; The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France) mostly focuses on the Enlightenment and French Revolution, giving us what he calls an assortment of "field reports" from the front. Overall, these reports organize themselves around four main themes: the connections between France and America at this time; life among the cosmopolitan elite during this so-called Republic of Letters, a cosmopolitan age when the nation was not yet a fundamental unit of existence or identity; ways in which the ideas of the time were communicated and disseminated; and ways of thought, or "mentalities," common to the French Enlightenment (such as the idea of happiness). Showing both the connections and the divergences between those times and our own, his account is full of fascinating snippets, such as the omnipresence of toothache in the 18th century and detailed demonstrations of how songs, gossip, and a vast underground of illegal literature helped to diffuse the values of the Enlightenment. Highly recommended.-Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

These deftly written essays by a leading interpreter of the French Enlightenment have four major themes arising from the 18th century: Franco-American intellectual connections, forms of communication, the Republic of Letters, and characteristic forms of thought of the French intellectuals. Using these themes, Darnton (Princeton Univ.) counters postmodern denigrations of the Enlightenment and honestly explores historiographic problems of evidence and interpretation with a light, personal touch. The first essay is a fine capsule history of the Enlightenment and a spirited defense of its continuing relevance. This theme is then pursued by exploring the 18th century's experience as an "early information society" and debates over the concept of a united Europe, two ideas of current import. The problems of market capitalism, vested interests, political corruption, French images of the US, and the pursuit of happiness are not of recent origin. One of the author's objectives is to provide historical perspective on these continuing issues for general readers. Consequently, the style is accessible while the substance reflects an excellent scholar's long familiarity with the era. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels and collections. R. P. Gildrie Austin Peay State University

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
1 The Case for the Enlightenment: George Washington's False Teethp. 3
2 The News in Paris: An Early Information Societyp. 25
3 The Unity of Europe: Culture and Politenessp. 76
4 The Pursuit of Happiness: Voltaire and Jeffersonp. 89
5 The Great Divide: Rousseau on the Route to Vincennesp. 107
6 The Craze for America: Condorcet and Brissotp. 119
7 The Pursuit of Profit: Rousseauism on the Boursep. 137
8 The Skeletons in the Closet: How Historians Play Godp. 156