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52 in 52 Week 12: Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire

I had not a clue what this was about. I just knew it was on my "100 Great Books" list, and it was relatively short. 


It was delightful. With the help of an excellent narrator, I laughed out loud several times. It is a fun and seemingly frivolous story with a deeper meaning that I chose to find out about after I finished just enjoying Candide's adventures (and mishaps) all over the world.


This is a very funny but critical satire written in 1758 about different philosophical systems of belief. Voltaire was a major philosopher of the 18th Century Age of Enlightenment (my 17 year old reminded me of Voltaire's background while I was listening to and laughing at this book - nice to know he is learning something in his college history class). His contemporaries were Mosntesquieu, Diderot, and Rousseau. 


You notice that the second title for this book is "optimism."  This title is ridiculing Leibnitzian optimism. Leibnitz (1646-1716) was a German philosopher who had several 18-century thinker popularizing his theories with the statement that "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." Voltaire rejects that the the best possible cause reflects God's will.  Candide's tutor, Dr. Pangloss, is representative of this philosophy.


The other extreme is represented by the character of Martin. He represents Manicheanism which was a system originated with Mani, a Persian prophet from 216-276, who believed that good and evil ruled the universe and were in constant conflict. Martin believes that God had abandoned the world to the forces of evil. 


Voltaire was a deist. Deist believe that God is like a "divine watchmaker" who made the world and then set it to run its course without interference in the affairs of everyday life. He believes that humans must cultivate their own garden, and you will see how Candide's philosophy evolves through his life.


It is a quick and entertaining read. 


This is the most important quote for me from the book:


A hundred times I wanted to kill myself, but always I loved life more. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our worst instincts; is anything more stupid than choosing to carry a burden that really one wants to cast on the ground? to hold existence in horror, and yet to cling to it? to fondle the serpent which devours us till it has eaten out our heart? —In the countries through which I have been forced to wander, in the taverns where I have had to work, I have seen a vast number of people who hated their existence; but I never saw more than a dozen who deliberately put an end to their own misery. 

The narrator for this audiobook was probably the best I have ever heard!
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