I have long been a fan of the writing and sayings of Voltaire. I have never understood why he isn't a better known figure here in America. His writings are as acerbically relevant today as when written, his portfolio of work is extensive and covers a wealth of genre's and he may be today's most sought after iconic figure-a confirmed French Anglophile.
One of the problems might be that there are no truly accessible biographies on Voltaire that are either available in English or that span less than a few thousand pages. In Voltaire Almighty Roger Pearson provides a quick, informative, entertaining and very accessible-if not horribly titled-work.
If there was one thing Voltaire was not it was almighty. Almost certainly an illegitimate child, Francois Marie Arouet all his life sought the power and grandeur of the noble classes he so effectively satirized in most of his works. As Pearson so eloquently points out, the distress that drove Voltaire was centered on...
While the "Almighty" in the title goes against my grain given the book's freedom-loving, deist, and most human of subjects, this biography is well worth reading. Professor Davidson writes in a light style, which pays fond homage to that of this great figure of the Enlightenment.
Another good book on Voltaire came out in 2004, "Voltaire in Exile" by Ian Davidson. If you want a full life biography, go with "Voltaire Almighty". If you are mainly just interested in Voltaire's later life and work in advancing human rights, go with Mr. Davidson's worthy effort. Or, read both and compare.
Voltaire has been part of my life for nearly a quarter of a century, ever since I picked up a copy of The Portable Voltaire at a used bookshop near my high school for one dollar. I made the purchase at the suggestion of a pretty girl who I never did convince to go out with me. I guess that's not really relevant to anyone but me, except that Voltaire does write about how heartbreak (which is what that frustration seemed to be at the time) can be a stone on the path to enlightenment.
Whether that disappointment and the many that followed inched me closer to real enlightenment over the years, I can't say. But one of the first times I ever remember feeling more enlightened than many of my peers was as it dawned on me that my familiarity with the 18th-century philosopher and writer was all but unheard of among South Floridians in their late teens (and even among most of their teachers).
I must admit I've always been puzzled by Voltaire. Despite my long exposure to his...
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