The aim of this retrospective review of Culture and Society is to offer what the author, Raymond Williams, would have called a “critical reading,” a form of reading and criticism that he practiced so well, notably in this book. This reading, divided into three parts, presents my original enthusiastic response, later doubts, and today's positive assessment.

When I first read Culture and Society, probably in 1961, I found it inspiring. Indeed, when I came to publish a book about the Italian Renaissance a decade or so later, it was in homage to Williams that I gave it the title Culture and Society in Renaissance Italy.

Attempting to reconstruct what most impressed me about the book more than sixty years later, I think of three features. In the first place, the idea of culture not as a synonym for the arts but as a whole “way of life.” Second,...

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