This is a study of those at the centre of Western civilization's vision of the world - the Enlightenment: nobles, priests, functionaries, men of letters, artists, explorers, soldiers and women. It seeks to show how the Enlightenment's leading figures came to the fore and functioned: areas and environments in which new ideas penetrated and took effect alternating with patches of darkness. The fundamental structures of society may have remained stable, but new ways of producing, of being and of appearing made abrupt progress. Attitudes towards life, birth, love, marriage, sexuality and death had begun to change. The twilight of the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century was part of a sequence of events of which the French Revolution was simply a paroxysm. This complex study of the Enlightenment aims to show how 19th and 20th century scholars constructed their views on 18th century man.