Herbert Spencer and the Invention of Modern Life, by Mark Francis. It's the best intellectual history I've read since McCraw's Schumpeter book, and did you know that he and George Eliot had a non-consummated fling? It's a highly specialized topic, so I can't recommend this book to everyone but I loved it and no you don't need to care about Spencer the libertarian. Tyler Cowen Marginal Revolution September 21, 2007 at 06:19 AM in Books Permalink
Herbert Spencer and the Invention of Modern Life by Mark Francis (Author) Editorial Reviews Book Description The ideas of the English philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) profoundly shaped Victorian thought regarding evolutionary theory, the philosophy of science, sociology, and politics. In his day, Spencer's works ranked alongside those of Darwin and Marx in their importance to the development of disciplines as wide-ranging as sociology, anthropology, political theory, philosophy, and psychology. Yet during his lifetime--and certainly in the decades that followed--Spencer has been widely misunderstood. Both lauded and disparaged as the father of Social Darwinism (it was Spencer who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest"), and as an apologist for individualism and unrestrained capitalism, he was, in fact, none of these; he was instead a subtle and complex thinker.
In his major new intellectual biography of Spencer, Mark Francis uses archival material and contemporary printed sources to create a fascinating portrait of a man who attempted to explain modern life in all its biological, psychological, and sociological forms through a unique philosophical and scientific system that bridged the gap between empiricism and metaphysics. Vastly influential in England and beyond--particularly the United States and Asia--his philosophy was, as Francis shows, coherent and rigorous. Despite the success he found in the realm of ideas, Spencer was an unhappy man. Francis reveals how Spencer felt permanently crippled by the Christian values he had absorbed during childhood, and was incapable of romantic love, as became clear during his relationship with the novelist George Eliot.
Elegantly written, provocative, and rich in insight, Herbert Spencer and the Invention of Modern Life is an exceptional work of scholarship that not only dispels the misinformation surrounding Spencer but also illuminates the broader cultural and intellectual history of the nineteenth century. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From the Back Cover
"A stunning revelation of a personality and thinker about whom even most well informed Victorianists evaluate largely from misinformation. This book presents an entirely new understanding of Spencer. Scholars from a number of fields--philosophy, literature, history, and history of science--will quite simply never be able to think of Spencer as they have before. Wonderfully and persuasively revisionist, backed up by superb research, this will be the book on Spencer for the present and next generation."--Frank M. Turner, John Hay Whitney Professor of History, Yale University
"A major new study of Herbert Spencer, revealing aspects of his personality and thought previously little explored. It is an impressive work of scholarship and intepretation that all scholars of nineteenth-century thought cannot afford to neglect."--David Boucher, Professor of Political Theory, Cardiff University --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. See all Editorial Reviews