It is well known that Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727– 1781) was an outstanding polymath. He after all worked in many fields of thought, was a polyglot in his command over ancient and modern languages and was recorded in history as a sound administrator, fiscal reformer, major Enlightenment figure and skilled writer on applied and theoretical economics. At the 2003 Turgot Conference held at Caen and Lantheuil, many papers were presented on Turgot the translator, the political and moral philosopher, the sociologist and the philosopher of history, the linguist, the poet, the student of probability and, especially, the reformer, the lawmaker, the statesman and administrator and the profound economic theorist.
Turgot's many biographers have also commented invariably on his broad scientific aptitude, his wide philosophical interests, his experiments in chemistry, physical and mathematical study and his abiding interest in history, sociology, philosophy, political science and political economy, both in its theoretical ramification and as an applied science designed to secure major reforms and improvements. These wider talents, on the exercise of many of which he left specific writings, major or minor, make him a generalist, an eighteenth-century “Renaissance man,” a true product of the Enlightenment who tried to understand all and to elaborate the mysteries of science—natural and especially social—in letters, memoranda, short papers and occasionally even short books.
Turgot's personal library likewise demonstrates his enormous breadth of interests. As catalogued by Takumi Tsuda (1974), it is easy to indicate its scope by summarizing the table of division of the library by subject matter. Not surprisingly, given his early education and training, it contained many theological works and a substantial collection of works on jurisprudence. The last embrace much material on the laws of nature and of the people. Turgot's history collection ranged from ecclesiastical history to ancient history, modern history, national history (especially that of France, Germany, England and Spain) and literary history. The sciences and the arts were well represented. In the order of this table, they included philosophy, ethics, morals, economics, education and metaphysics, while natural history covered the literature of agriculture, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, pharmacy, surgery, astronomy and optics. Works on the arts covered architecture, painting, sculpture, music, dance and the military arts.