Humanly Possible

Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Enquiry and Hope

Sarah Bakewell author


Publisher:Vintage Publishing

Published:30th Mar '23


Available for immediate dispatch.



The bestselling, prizewinning author of How to Live and At the Existentialist Café explores 700 years of writers, thinkers, scientists and artists, all trying to understand what it means to be truly human.

'I can't imagine a better history' PHILIP PULLMAN * 'Fascinating, moving, funny' OLIVER BURKEMAN

If you are reading this, it's likely you already have some affinity with humanism, even if you don't think of yourself in those terms. You may be drawn to literature and the humanities. You may prefer to base your moral choices on fellow-feeling and responsibility to others rather than on religious commandments. Or you may simply believe that individual lives are more important than grand political visions or dogmas.

If any of these apply, you are part of a long tradition of humanist thought, and you share that tradition with many extraordinary individuals through history who have put rational enquiry, cultural richness, freedom of thought and a sense of hope at the heart of their lives.

Humanly Possible introduces us to some of these people, as it asks what humanism is and why it has flourished for so long, despite opposition from fanatics, mystics and tyrants. It is a book brimming with ideas, personalities and experiments in living - from Erasmus to Esperanto, from anatomists to agnostics, from Christine de Pizan to Bertrand Russell to Zora Neale Hurston. It joyfully celebrates open-mindedness, optimism, freedom and the power of the here and now - humanist values which have helped steer us through dark times in the past, and which are just as urgently needed in our world today.


'Quirky, funny, clear and passionate . . . Few writers are as good as Bakewell at explaining complicated ideas' Mail on Sunday

'A wonderfully readable combination of biography, philosophy, history, cultural analysis and personal reflection' Independent

'Splendidly conceived and exquisitely written' Sunday Times

'A rare achievement' Evening Standard

In this exhilarating handbook Sarah Bakewell explains that a humanist philosopher is one who puts the whole living person at the centre of things . . . Bakewell finishes this bracing book by urging us to draw inspiration from these earlier men and women as we try hard to live bravely and humanly in what sometimes seems like an aridly abstract and loveless world -- Kathryn Hughes * Sunday Times *
A story of spiritual and intellectual triumph... An epic, spine-tingling and persuasive work of history -- Simon Ings * Daily Telegraph *
As in her previous books on Montaigne and the Existentialists, Bakewell manages to transform raw material into prose that is light and clear . . . she carefully selects only the most interesting and revealing details . . . Bakewell exemplifies the thirst for life and learning of humanism at its best -- Julian Baggini * Literary Review *
Engagingly written as well as richly informative . . . every thinker, every book, every movement is located lightly and precisely in relation to its past and its influence on the present day. I can't imagine a better history of humanism, nor one that is so vividly persuasive. Bakewell is a wonderful writer * PHILIP PULLMAN *
I've long admired Sarah Bakewell's extraordinary talent for breathing life into philosophy, making vivid the historical circumstances that give birth to new ideas. And this book is her best yet - a fascinating, moving, funny, sometimes harrowing and ultimately uplifting account of humanity's struggle to understand and fully inhabit the state of being human * OLIVER BURKEMAN, author of Four Thousand Weeks *

ISBN: 9781784741662

Dimensions: 236mm x 160mm x 42mm

Weight: 680g

464 pages