How were human rights invented, and what is their turbulent history? Human rights is a concept that only came to the forefront during the eighteenth century. When the American Declaration of Independence declared "all men are created equal" and the French proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man during their revolution, they were bringing a new guarantee into the world. But why then? How did such a revelation come to pass? In this extraordinary work of cultural and intellectual history, Professor Lynn Hunt grounds the creation of human rights in the changes that authors brought to literature, the rejection of torture as a means of finding out truth, and the spread of empathy. Hunt traces the amazing rise of rights, their momentous eclipse in the nineteenth century, and their culmination as a principle with the United Nations's proclamation in 1948. She finishes this work for our time with a diagnosis of the state of human rights today.