Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) is the most eminent literary figure of the German Enlightenment and a writer of European significance. His range of interest as dramatist, poet, critic, philosopher, theologian, philologist and much else besides was comparable to that of Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau, with all of whose ideas he engaged. He contributed decisively to the emergence of German as a literary language and was the founder of modern German literature, urging his compatriots to look to England rather than France for literary inspiration. His major plays (including the classic drama on religious tolerance, Nathan the Wise) are still regularly performed. He was a brilliant controversialist, and his philosophical and religious writings profoundly shook traditional assumptions. This book sets his life and work in the context of the intellectual, social, and cultural background of eighteenth-century Europe. It is the first comprehensive account of Lessing's life for over a century, and it serves as a reference work on all aspects of Lessing's life, work, and thought. The German edition, published in 2008, is now regarded as definitive; it was awarded the Hamann Research Prize of the University and city of Munster and the Einhard Prize for Biography of the Einhard Foundation in Seligenstadt. The present English edition has been revised and updated in the light of relevant publications since 2008.