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Lead book review

The attraction of freethinking humanism

Philip Hensher admires the humanists of the past, and finds them consistently kinder, more decent and generous than their contemporaries

15 April 2023

9:00 AM

15 April 2023

9:00 AM

Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Thinking, Enquiry and Hope Sarah Bakewell

Chatto & Windus, pp.464, £22

One rather surprising fact emerges from a history of humanism: most humanists were nice people. This might, on the surface, appear a totally fatuous observation. There is not much value in debating whether, say, architects, chancellors of the exchequer, engineers, surgeons or gardeners have been obviously nice people, and we would roll our eyes if a reviewer started speculating whether Wagner or Dickens were personally agreeable.

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