He was educated at Harvard and Oxford
(where he was a Rhodes scholar). After a brief stint as a reporter
for The New York Times, he became a junior fellow in the Society of
Fellows at Harvard. He taught at Princeton from 1968 until 2007
when he came to fill the roles mentioned above. Among his honors
are a MacArthur Prize Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle
Award, election to the French Legion of Honor, the National
Humanities Medal, and the Del Duca World Prize in the Humanities.
He has written and edited many books, including The Business of
Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie (1979,
an early attempt to develop the history of books as a field of
study), The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French
Cultural History (1984, his most popular work) and The
Forbidden Best-Sellers of Prerevolutionary France (1995, a
study of the underground book trade).
We met at his office in the Widener
Library to talk, among other things, about why book history in so
exciting; French police enforcing edicts on the book trade; The
Private Life of Louis XV, sex, scandal and politics;
David Hall; the fertile crescent of publishing houses around France
in the 18th century; book pirating; the communications circuit; and
Roger Chartier, and the fluidity of texts.