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Candide: Or Optimism (Penguin Classics) Paperback – June 30, 1950

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Editorial Reviews Review

Political satire doesn't age well, but occasionally a diatribe contains enough art and universal mirth to survive long after its timeliness has passed. Candide is such a book. Penned by that Renaissance man of the Enlightenment, Voltaire, Candide is steeped in the political and philosophical controversies of the 1750s. But for the general reader, the novel's driving principle is clear enough: the idea (endemic in Voltaire's day) that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and apparent folly, misery and strife are actually harbingers of a greater good we cannot perceive, is hogwash.

Telling the tale of the good-natured but star-crossed Candide (think Mr. Magoo armed with deadly force), as he travels the world struggling to be reunited with his love, Lady Cunegonde, the novel smashes such ill-conceived optimism to splinters. Candide's tutor, Dr. Pangloss, is steadfast in his philosophical good cheer, in the face of more and more fantastic misfortune; Candide's other companions always supply good sense in the nick of time. Still, as he demolishes optimism, Voltaire pays tribute to human resilience, and in doing so gives the book a pleasant indomitability common to farce. Says one character, a princess turned one-buttocked hag by unkind Fate: "I have wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but somehow I am still in love with life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most melancholy propensities; for is there anything more stupid than to be eager to go on carrying a burden which one would gladly throw away, to loathe one's very being and yet to hold it fast, to fondle the snake that devours us until it has eaten our hearts away?"--Michael Gerber


“When we observe such things as the recrudescence of fundamentalism in the United States, the horrors of religious fanaticism in the Middle East, the appalling danger which the stubbornness of political intolerance presents to the whole world, we must surely conclude that we can still profit by the example of lucidity, the acumen, the intellectual honesty and the moral courage of Voltaire.”
—A. J. Ayer --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (June 30, 1950)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140440046
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140440041
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (441 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

200 of 211 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ever since philosophers began thinking about the meaning of life, a favorite question has been "Why do bad things happen to good people?". In Voltaire's day, this issue was primarily pursued either from the perspective of faith (everything that happens is God's will and must be for Divine purpose) or of reason (What do these events mean to you, as you interpret them subjectively?). Infuriated by the reaction by some members of the church to a horrible loss of life from an earthquake in Lisbon, Voltaire wrote this hard-biting satire of the human condition to explore these questions.
Before reading further, let me share a word of caution. This book is filled with human atrocities of the most gruesome sort. Anything that you can imagine could occur in war, an Inquisition, or during piracy happens in this book. If you find such matters distressing (as many will, and more should), this book will be unpleasant reading. You should find another book to read.
The book begins as Candide is raised in the household of a minor noble family in Westphalia, where he is educated by Dr. Pangloss, a student of metaphysical questions. Pangloss believes that this is the best of all possible worlds and deeply ingrains that view into his pupil. Candide is buoyed by that thought as he encounters many setbacks in the course of the book as he travels through many parts of Europe, Turkey, and South America.
All is well for Candide until he falls in love with the Baron's daughter and is caught kissing her hand by the Baron. The Baron immediately kicks Candide out of the castle (literally on the backside), and Candide's wanderings begin. Think of this as being like expulsion from the Garden of Eden for Adam.
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81 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on December 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
No the story doesn't change from edition to edition, but the supplementary material provided does change. Candide isn't just some hectic adventure story. It really fails as literature in this regard, and certainly Voltaire's purpose was not to make you chuckle while you whiled away a few empty hours. He would weep to think that you missed out on what he was really trying to tell you. Rest easy. I am not going to launch into a stuffy monologue on Leibnitz and 18th century French Catholicism, but in essence you should know that this is the essence of the story. The philosopher Leibnitz (who with Isaac Newton independently invented Calculus) explained the existence of evil in the world thusly: God, in his infinite wisdom, thought of all possible worlds that he could create, and he chose this one; therefore this must be the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire was also continually chastising the Catholic Church for it's lack of tolerance of other beliefs, and for its aristocratic pomp.
Enter now the Norton Critical Edition of Candide. This book presents the 75 page story along with 130 additional pages of various articles and essays on the times in which it was written; commentary by Voltaire and by his contemporaries; and critiques of the story by modern writers. Sure there are always a few dull, academic essays making their mandatory appearance in a book like this, but my suggestion is just to skip them. After all there are a lot of them to choose from.
Learn the story behind the story so to speak. After all it is the background of Candide that makes Candide the forceful satire that it is.
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
It is probably fair to say that there is no book that is quite like Voltaire's 'Candide'. This is a venomous satire of the 'Optimistic' philosophy and outlook of enlightenment thinkers such as Leibniz and Alexander Pope. As such, it is served well by the unique combination of repeated brutality and a deft, light touch. If that last comment doesn't make sense, then you'll just have to READ THE BOOK.
At a mere 144 pages (in this edition), this is a classic that is a breeze to read. As to the charge that this book is too "violent" or "in bad taste", I would only ask you to remember that Voltaire was furious that learned members of a "civilized" society (like Leibniz, Pope, and even Rousseau)could claim that the apparent senseless violence and mayhem wrought by disasters, war, disease, man's cruelty, etc. was actually only a part of some 'greater good' - after all, God (being perfect) could not 'logically' created anything but the 'best of all possible' universes.
Voltaire's touch is so light and understated that I defy anyone to write anything that contains a third of the violence in 'Candide' and still manages to read as breezily and somehow be genuinely funny.
But dark satire must be funny - otherwise it lapses into pedantry.
Read it - even if you do not like it, I guarantee you that it will disturb you and make you think.
And for that, we can thank Voltaire.
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Jack L. Keller on July 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book has the title "Candide and other stories", but the exciting part is the other stories. Yes "Candide" is a great work and perhaps the best satircal work of the 18th century, but it alone does not do justice to Voltaire's genius.
Like a lot of people I had read "Candide" years ago for school and was impressed with the work. However, I soon forgot about it and never really thought about Voltaire's other works. As I was browsing Amazon one day I saw this book and thought it was time to revisit this old friend. Boy was I lucky.
Three of the "other stories" are every bit as good as "Candide". "Micromegas" is a fine SciFi work from the 1740's. It comes complete with a Saturnian and Syrian and relates their struggle to understand the Earth's philosophies. "Zadig" unfolds in a similar manner to "Candide" but may be even more biting. Finally "The Ingenu" holds special interest for Americans as it chronicles the problems encountered by a young Huron "Savage" as he relocates to "Civilized" France. The final story "The White Bull" is not in the same class as the rest of the works in this book, but still is a fun read.
It was nice to see my old friend "Candide", but even nicer to meet the new friends that are here. If you are considering buying one of the other copies which have only "Candide" the extra works here make this version so much richer.
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