Power, Pleasure, and Profit is an erudite book, full of learned asides and lengthy quotations; it suffers in fact to some extent from the author’s compulsion to expand and elaborate on various points of interpretation that, besides being controversial, do not really affect his main line of argument. Did Machiavelli write The Prince with Florence in mind, or some other place Cesare Borgia wished to conquer, such as Faenza or Rimini? Can John Locke’s political theory be rightly described as “watered-down Hobbesianism”? Did Smith, not being Irish, seriously misunderstand the impact of famines on contemporary economies?
Wootton presents the conceptual shift that gave birth to our life today in a book that is ambitious and impressive in its sweep. Nearly a third of Power, Pleasure and Profit’s 400 pages consist of scholarly notes and appendices. Yet Wootton’s vividly written narrative never loses momentum. Few academic books tell such a gripping story of how ideas can change the world. Yet it is a story that leaves out an enormous amount, and the view of “the Enlightenment paradigm” that Wootton presents is both parochial and anachronistic... For all these caveats, Wootton’s Enlightenment paradigm is extraordinarily narrow... Marxism surfaces near the end of the book, but as one item in a long list of highly disparate movements... Enlightenment thinking has continued in a variety of forms that Wootton’s narrow paradigm would exclude... There was a good deal of conceptual change in early modern times, but it was far from being the all-encompassing shift that Wootton postulates.