197 of 208 people found the following review helpful
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. Soon the penniless Candide finds himself in the Bulgarian army, and receiving lots of beatings while he learns to drill.
The story grows more far-fetched with each subsequent incident. To the casual reader, this exaggeration can seem unnecessary and annoying. It will remind you of the most extreme parts of Swift in Gulliver's Travels and Rabelais in Gargantua and Pantagruel. But subtly, Voltaire is using the exaggeration to lure the reader into making complacent judgments about complacency itself that Voltaire wants to challenge. The result is a deliciously ironical work that undermines complacency at a more fundamental level than I have seen done elsewhere. Basically, Candide challenges any view you have about complacency that is defined in terms of the world-view of those who are complacent.
Significant changes of circumstances (good and ill) occur to all of the members of the Baron's household over the course of the story. Throughout, there is much comparing of who has had the worst luck, with much feeling sorry for oneself.
That is the surface story. Voltaire is, however, a master of misdirection. Beneath the surface, Voltaire has another purpose for the book. He also wants to expose the reader to questioning the many bad habits that people have that make matters worse for everyone. The major themes of these undercurrents are (1) competing rather than to cooperating, (2) employing inhumane means to accomplish worldly (and many spiritual) ends, (3) following expected rules of behavior to show one's superiority over others that harm and degrade others, (4) focusing on money and power rather than creating rich human relationships, (5) hypocritical behavior, and (6) pursuing ends that society approves of rather than ends that please oneself.
By the end of the story, the focus shifts again to a totally different question: How can humans achieve happiness? Then, you have to reassess what you thought about the book and what was going on in Voltaire's story. Many readers will choose to reread the book to better capture Voltaire's perspective on that final question, having been surprised by it.
Candide is one of my favorite books because it treats important philosophical questions in such an unusual way. Such unaccustomed matching of treatment and subject matters leaves an indelible impression that normal philosophical arguments can never match. Voltaire also has an amazing imagination. Few could concoct such a story (even by using illegal substances to stimulate the subconscious mind). I constantly find myself wondering what he will come up with next. The story is so absurd that it penetrates the consciousness at a very fundamental level, almost like doing improvisation. In so doing, Voltaire taps into that feeling of "what else can happen?" that overcomes us when we are at our most pessimistic. So, gradually you will find yourself identifying with the story -- even though nothing like this could ever happen to you. Like a good horror story, you are also relieved that you can read about others' troubles and can put your own into perspective. This last point is the fundamental humanity of the story. You see what a wonderful thing a kind word, a meal, or a helping hand can be. That will probably inspire you to offer those empathic actions more often.
After you have finished Candide, I suggest that you ask yourself where complacency about your life and circumstances is costing you and those you care about the potential for more health, happiness, peace, and prosperity. Then take Voltaire's solution, and look around you for those who enjoy the most of those four wonderful attributes. What do those people think and do differently from you?
76 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2002
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.
57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2000
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.
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2000
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.
93 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2003
While Candide is a great book, this translation (the Dover Thrift Edition) has but one merit, and that is its low cost. Not only does the translator (anonymous) use archaic language to render in English a book that was written in modern French, but he misuses it. While one could make a case for using 'thou' when Voltaire used the informal 'tu', this translator uses it seemingly at random. He reverses the meaning of at least one line and skips several words for no apparent reason. If you want to read Candide, either find a better translation than this or read the original.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2002
"Candide," subtitled "Optimism" and purporting to be "translated from the German of Doctor Ralph with the additions which were found in the Doctor's pocket when he died at [the Battle of] Minden in the Year of Our Lord 1759," is the single work of Voltaire that continues to be read and recognized as a canonical work of Western literature. A mere seventy-five pages long, it is an amusing and, at times, cruel book that satirically lays waste to many philosophical ideas of its time while simultaneously illuminating the mind, the temperament and the personal conflicts of its author, a man who, perhaps more than any other, came to define the intellectual spirit of eighteenth century France.
At its most abstract level, "Candide" examines the age-old question of why a supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent god would create a world so afflicted with evil and suffering. This question particularly troubled Voltaire following the great Lisbon earthquake and fire in November 1755, which killed as many as forty thousand people.
Hence, in the very first page of "Candide," the reader encounters one of literature's most famous characters, Pangloss, the learned tutor of Candide, who "gave instruction in metaphysico-theologico-cosmoloonigology." Echoing the popularizers of Leibniz, the early eighteenth century German philosopher, Pangloss espouses the notion that there cannot be cause without effect, that we live in the best of all possible worlds:
"It is clear, said he, that things cannot be otherwise than they are, for since everything is made to serve an end, everything necessarily serves the best end. Observe: noses were made to support spectacles, hence we have spectacles. Legs, as anyone can plainly see, were made to be breeched, and so we have breeches. Stones were made to be shaped and to build castles with; thus My Lord has a fine castle, for the greatest Baron in the province should have the finest house; and since pigs were made to be eaten, we eat pork all year round. Consequently, those who say everything is well are uttering mere stupidities; they should say everything is for the best."
From the introduction of this philosophical idea, Voltaire proceeds to narrate a dizzying tale (really, a series of tales, like Chinese boxes or Russian dolls or the Arabian Nights) of the adventures of Candide, Cunegonde, Pangloss, Cacambo, and a host of other characters, adventures that include war, torture, dismemberment, and death and utterly confound any claim that we live in the best of all possible worlds. At the same time Voltaire satirically challenges certain prevailing ideas, however, he also introduces a plethora of personal, political and historical references, thereby making "Candide" a sort of literary and intellectual cornucopia of Voltaire's thought. In the words of Robert Adams, the able translator and editor of the Norton Critical Edition of the work, "`Candide' is at the same time a novel of abstract ideas with long, complex histories and a highly personal book, into which Voltaire poured an immense amount of himself-his experiences, his enmities, his learning, his desires, his anguish."
The Norton Critical Edition of "Candide" contains extensive and useful background materials on the text, including valuable discussions of the philosophical ideas adumbrated in Voltaire's tale and excerpts from critical studies, books and letters that have been published over the years since the book was written. Among these materials, "Gestation: `Candide' Assembling Itself", an excerpt from Haydn Mason's 1975 book on Voltaire, is particularly useful in understanding the context in which Voltaire wrote, including the effect that the catastrophe in Lisbon and the Seven Years' War had on his thinking.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2001
First off, this new edition of "Candide" has numerous virtues, not the least of which is the amazing erudition invested in the explanatory footnotes that run the length of Voltaire's text. Wootton puts his (and others') knowledge of this masterpiece to good use, and his clarifications are invaluable, helping both to situate Voltaire's thought in the context of his own life and culture, and to resurrect some of the more historically specific humor that has, sadly, been bled away by the last two and a half centuries. Why is it funny, for example, that Voltaire sends his naive protagonist first to the Bulgars? Wootton tells you.
Second, the wealth of contextual material is great for enlarging the reader's understanding of the intellectual climate that Voltaire is critiquing. The Leibniz summary chosen is a bit opaque (small bits of the "Theodicee" would have worked better towards explaining the basics of Leibniz, or at least Voltaire's merciless version of Leibniz), but the portions of Pope and the excerpts of Voltaire's correspondence are enlightening.
The translation is, by and large, very good. We lose a little humor (which always happens in translation), as when the baron's wife is said, due to her weight, to be "regarded as a person of substance" (2); Voltaire here says that, due to her weight, she "s'attirait par là une très grande considération [attracted great consideration]," a wee comical nod to Newtonian physics that must be seen as the first scientific pun of many to come.
This is minor, but another moment of the translation gives me great pause, and, judging from Wootton's impassioned introductory defense of his decision, it must have given him greater pause. Most translations of "Candide" have reliably rendered the famous final lines as "we must cultivate our garden," or something to that effect. Very few have dared omit the word "garden." Wootton delivers it as "we must work our land," and he defends his choice with a well-reasoned appeal to Voltaire's cultural context and correspondence, and claims further that the great symbolic appeal of the "Garden of Eden" image was largely behind the traditional rendering of the line as "we must cultivate our garden." The problem with his defense is not just that Voltaire's line bluntly (and literally) reads "il faut cultiver notre jardin [we must cultivate our garden]," but that the Garden of Eden resonance of which Wootton is so wary is not imported by the reader but rather quite present in "Candide," and even in Wootton's translation of "Candide." When, on page 3 of this translation, Candide is "driven out of the Garden of Eden," he begins a motion that will eventually cycle him back, older and wiser, to a different garden, one drained of religious specificity but not resonance. By tampering with Voltaire's last line, Wootton's translation robs the narrative of its aggressive insistence on this return.
This is fairly nit-picky stuff, though, and any reader can keep the translation difficulties squarely in mind, since Wootton makes--to his credit--no attempt to conceal them. So what you have, in the end, then, is a largely faithful and superbly readable rendition of a work that does not fail, to this day, to make us think, laugh, and feel ashamed. Unpalatable social insitutions like slavery fall under Voltaire's sharp attack, as does the particular cruelty of which organized religion has shown itself capable. The guileless protagonist is back in vogue (see the tributes to Candide in Boyle's "Tortilla Curtain" and Groom's "Forrest Gump"), as candid as ever. For [the price], that's a lot of bang for your buck.
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2003
Francois-Marie Arouet (pen name Voltaire) was one of the greatest thinkers of 18th-century Europe. In his brief novella CANDIDE -- which takes less than two hours to read -- he explains the purpose of human existence, with brilliant observations and witty humor. Voltaire offers up numerous philosophies devised by the greatest minds in history, none of which makes the remotest sense in the crazy, multi-continent, tragedy-ridden misadventures of Candide, his tutor Pangloss, his beloved Cunegonde, and the host of remarkable characters they meet.
To call this novella episodic is an understatement. There is more plot in some paragraphs of CANDIDE than there is in most thousand-page epics. We hear countless tales of injustice, swindle, rape, torture, famine, murder, plague, earthquake, and war, but Voltaire presents them in such rapid-fire understatement that the tragedies become hilarious. (Most notable is the tale of the Old Lady losing half of her backside in a seige.) It is only after Candide and his band of comrades lose vast fortunes multiple times that they happen across a lifestyle that offers a moderate amount of enduring satisfaction...
...but I will not tell you how Voltaire says that you can find happiness and fulfillment. Next time you have a rainy afternoon with nothing to do, let Voltaire explain it himself.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
When Voltaire's Candide was originally published in 1759, it must have really been something. Voltaire's goal, of course, was to satirize the haberdash Liebnizian view holding that everything that happens in this world - the good, the bad, the ugly - is all part of God's omnibenevolent plan, and hence, ultimately, for the good. Thus, by watching young Candide, a boy schooled in this philosophy, endure mindless tragedy upon mindless tragedy while despearetely trying to decipher how each fits into God's all-good plan, we see how ridiculous such a view is.
While this everything-is-for-the-best-no-matter-how-bad-it-actually-seems view is not AS active today as it was in Voltaire's 1759, we still see a good bit of it. Witness Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell telling us that the 9/11 suicide attacks were God's way of punishing us for leftward political activities (as if an all-powerful God couldn't come up with some better way to get a message to us than this). And how many times, in the face of tragedy, do we hear platitudes like "It is all ultimately for the best," or, "God works in mysterious ways."
In a sense, Candide is as biting and prescient now as it must have been in 1759. Of course, Voltaire isn't trying to disprove this Liebnizian idea. Satire can't disprove; that's what philosophic tomes are for. Rather, Voltaire is simply trying to show it's absurdity by allowing us to laugh at it (in the comfort of our own homes, of course). So those looking for an actual debunking of the "problem of evil" (as it is known in philosophy) should look elsewhere.
Another warning: as fiction - purely as fiction - Candide is not a good work at all. It basically consists of the main character going from place to place (searching for his lover) only to encounter one attrocity after another. If one throws out the satire element, then Candide is a rambling, disjointed and drastically inferior Don Quixote. But as satire, the work is innervating and deep.
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2004
Born in 1694, Francois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire, the renowned Parisian satirist known simply as Voltaire was truly my kind of guy. He was a rebellious free-thinker who did not tow the societal line of unchallenged conformity. He challenged the acceptable norms of his time and went against the grain by not accepting the status quo of religious dogma; and he paid the consequences for it too. After spending time in the Bastille, a state prison that stood for the absolute despotism of the Ancient Regime, he was eventually released only on the condition that he leave France. Fortunately, his departure was not his demise, having produced many worthy efforts in satire following his exile.
Of course, his works were, in my view, a reaction to madness of the era in which he lived. Having the luxury of hindsight, which is often said to be "20/20," it seems to me that what was seen as nonconformity then, was really just sensibility and enlightenment. Born only ten years prior to the death of the great English philosopher John Locke, Voltaire lived in the same era that produced David Hume, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Isaac Newton, and Immanuel Kant. Indeed, Voltaire lived in the Age of Enlightenment.
Like Jonathan Swift (who influenced Voltaire in the genre of satire), Voltaire had the ability to tell an absurd story in the most natural manner with notable wit, clarity, and polish. As such, Candide is a very manageable read, and an enjoyable one at that; even for those with little time on their hands. It is as much a classic of satirical literature as any other ever written.
Voltaire wrote Candide at the age of sixty-five as a response, in the form of satirical mockery, to the optimism of Leibniz. "Everything is for the best in the best of worlds..." said the optimists. In Candide, both optimism and pessimism are personified and explored in the characters of the book. At the time Candide was written, Voltaire clearly had already lived a long, full life with many experiences to draw discernment from. What he witnessed and experienced in his life contradicted the philosophy and absolute certainty of the optimists; or at least, it proved to him that the optimists were only half-correct (or half-incorrect, depending on your perspective!). The duality of man, and of all the things in this world for that matter, was evident to him.
Simply put, the premise of Candide is based on a young and naive neophyte's (the title character) experiences in a harsh, rude, and cruel world. In nearly every instance, Candide's observations and experiences show him that mankind is a rather wicked animal. Accompanying these experiences are characters that embody optimism, which is personified by the character Pangloss; and pessimism is represented by the character Martin, who believes that man, "...is born to live either in convulsions of distress or the lethargy of boredom." One of the splendid qualities of this book lies in the fact that Voltaire accepted neither Martin's pessimism nor Pangloss's optimism at face value. Each perspective is explored and valued equally, allowing the reader to decide for themselves through reflective contemplation the merits of both views.
This book is without question, in my mind, a great classic. Everyone should read Voltaire's magnum opus, Candide, before they die.