By Voltaire,

Book cover of Candide

Book description

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A classic work of eighteenth century…

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Why read it?

3 authors picked Candide as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

No book inspired me to write my own book more than Voltaire’s Candide, a biting critique (and simultaneous exaltation) of civilization in light of the technological and social changes of the Industrial Revolution. Voltaire’s story is (of course) absurd: it follows a young man named Candide as he progressively loses faith in humanity and transforms from a Leibnizian optimist to a proto-Schopenhauerian pessimist (as we age, many of us go through the same transformation). Neither Candide nor my book (if you will momentarily allow for such a vulgar equivocation) is a lightweight in terms of the philosophical content, either—even…

A young man brought up to believe that all is well in the world travels across the globe and encounters cruelty, idiocy, folly, and nastiness of every kind. The arguments used by his mentor in optimism to explain away the ills of the planet are devious, absurd, and yet familiar even today. In the end, Candide, sobered by experience, gives up on philosophy altogether and settles down to look after his garden. This classic work nearly 300 years old remains a treasure of wit and wisdom—and will give you a hearty dose of laughter too.

Modernity arguably begins with the 17th-century Age of Reason and gets up to speed in the 18th-century Enlightenment, and no figure personified la siècle des lumières better than François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire. The eponymous hero of his most famous work stumbles from one hideous institution to the next, including a Portuguese Inquisition dispatching heretics as an “act of faith.” Stephen Sondheim’s “Auto-da-Fé (What a Day),” a gem among the many versions of Leonard Bernstein’s musical, captures Voltaire’s rollicking irreverence. (“When foreigners like this come/To criticize and spy/We chant a pax vobiscum/And hang the bastard high!”) Some critics feel the…

From James' list on thinking about modernity.

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