Online Talk | Robert Darnton, Pirating and Publishing

Posted in books, lectures (to attend), online learning by Editor on January 31, 2021

This Wednesday, from the Boston Athenæum:

Book Talk: Pirating and Publishing: The Book Trade in the Age of Enlightenment
Robert Darnton in Conversation with John Buchtel
3 February 2021, 6:00pm (EST)

In the late-18th century, a group of publishers in what historian Robert Darnton calls the ‘Fertile Crescent’ countries located along the French border, stretching from Holland to Switzerland pirated the works of prominent (and often banned) French writers and distributed them in France, where laws governing piracy were in flux and any notion of ‘copyright’ very much in its infancy. Piracy was entirely legal and everyone acknowledged tacitly or openly that these pirated editions of works by Rousseau, Voltaire, and Diderot, among other luminaries, supplied a growing readership within France, one whose needs could not be met by the monopolistic and tightly controlled Paris Guild.

Pirating and Publishing: The Book Trade in the Age of Enlightenment focuses on a publisher in Switzerland, one of the largest and whose archives are the most complete. Through the lens of this concern, Darnton offers a sweeping view of the world of writing, publishing, and especially bookselling in pre-Revolutionary France—a vibrantly detailed inside look at a cut-throat industry that was struggling to keep up with the times and, if possible, make a profit off them. Featuring a fascinating cast of characters lofty idealists and down-and-dirty opportunists this new book expands upon on Darnton’s celebrated work on book-publishing in France, most recently found in A Literary Tour de France. Pirating and Publishing reveals how and why piracy brought the Enlightenment to every corner of France, feeding the ideas that would explode into revolution.

Registration is requested. Boston Athenæum Members and VESP holders: free. Visitors: $5.

Robert Darnton is Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and University Librarian, Emeritus of Harvard University, and the author of The Great Cat Massacre (1984) and A Literary Tour de France (2018), among others.
John Buchtel is Curator of Rare Books and Head of Special Collections at the Boston Athenaeum.

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Robert Darnton, Pirating and Publishing: The Book Trade in the Age of Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 400 pages, ISBN: 978-0195144529, $35.



1  The Rules of the Game and How the Game was Played
2  The Landscape in Paris
3  The Fertile Crescent

4  How to Pirate a Book
5  Portraits of Pirates and Their Businesses
6  Underground Geneva
7  A Confederation of Pirates
8  The Struggle to Pirate Rousseau and Voltaire

Inside a Swiss Publishing House
9  Business as Usual
10  Our Man in Paris
11  Relations with Authors
12  Making and Losing Money


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