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[Perspectives] Connections and collections

The Enlightenment seems familiar to us in ways that the apocalyptic sectarian fury of the English Civil War, only a generation or two earlier, does not. We recognise its coffee shops and consumerism, its newspapers and networkers, its Eurosceptics and cosmopolitans, and at the heart of it all a grand ambition: to classify and reduce to order the new landscapes, creatures, and peoples revealed by exploration and commerce. All the slave-trading, periwig-powdering ambiguities of 18th-century European life were personified in Hans Sloane—an Ulster parvenu turned society physician and, as James Delbourgo argues in this rich and masterly new biography, the greatest collector of his age.