Candide is a true populist masterpiece. Salacious, insidious, and refreshingly free, Voltaire's ubiquitous cynicism provides the ultimate defence of free thought. As a text-book of common-sense, it parodies beautifully some of the philosophical faiths of his time, and lambastes the incongruity of the worship of Reason which he reveals to produce a succession of unreasonable conclusions. Reason should be blindly praised only when we have all the answers, yet how can this be possible when we haven't yet asked every question?
No religion is safe. Protestant schism, Catholic dogma, and philosophical mantras all suffer in a cacophony of irony, the ostensible flippancy of which is simply a veil for a web of observational brilliance. After all, Voltaire is a superb observational comic: more satirically charged than Swift, with the outrage of Monty Python and the caustics of Spike Milligan. And yet so much more clever. His ability to destroy an empty argument is always clear and impressive, even though we are never immediately aware of how he did it. Voltaire’s vision for inconsistency is unique.
Adorned with rape, scandal, and brutal humour, Voltaire’s work is a paragon of how tabloid literature would appear in an intellectual’s wet-dream. And for such a short volume, Candide provides some of the greatest value-for-money known to man. There is enough from 100 pages to last a lifetime, whatever your background. For those who are a little familiar with 18th Century philosophy, politics and war, the content is an irrepressible summary of the mania of the age. For everyone else, this is a timeless tome on humanity: its frivolities, its fortunes, and its failings. Read it.