There’s a certain kind of book that defies a direct approach. It arrives on the doorstep, several inches thick, dense with learning. With a winch you hoist it to a table, where it intimidates the books already there. Occasionally you sidle up to it, as if it were the Maginot Line, then opt for a flanking maneuver. If the pandemic were to last another decade, there could come a point when you might be tempted to consider cracking its spine, only to retreat to the comfort of The Anatomy of Melancholy or A Brief History of Time.
And that would be a mistake, at least if the book were Ritchie Robertson’s thousand-page The Enlightenment, a beautifully written account of a period that everyone has heard of but few pause to think about.