Books by Voltaire


François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), better known by his pen name Voltaire, was a novelist, dramatist, poet, philosopher, historian, and satirist, and was one of the most renowned figures of the Age of Enlightenment. Voltaire was born into a Parisian bourgeois family, and educated by Jesuits. He was an excellent pupil but one quickly enraged by dogma. An early rift with his father, who wished him to study law, led to his choice of letters as a career. Insinuating himself into court circles, he became notorious for lampoons on leading notables and was twice imprisoned in the Bastille. By his mid-thirties his literary activities precipitated a four-year exile in England where he won the praise of Swift and Pope for his political tracts. His publication, three years later in France, of Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais (1733), which was an attack on French Church and State, forced him to flee again. For twenty years Voltaire lived chiefly away from Paris. In this, his most prolific period, he wrote such satirical tales as "Zadig" (1747) and "Candide" (1759). His old age at Ferney, outside Geneva, was made bright by his adopted daughter, "Belle et Bonne", and marked by his intercessions in behalf of victims of political injustice.


"Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary", first published in 1764, is a series of short, radical essays - alphabetically arranged - that form a brilliant and bitter analysis of the social and religious conventions that then dominated eighteenth-century French thought. One of the masterpieces of the Enlightenment, this enormously influential work of sardonic wit - more a collection of essays arranged alphabetically, than a conventional dictionary - considers such diverse subjects as Abraham and Atheism, Faith and Freedom of Thought, Miracles and Moses. Repeatedly condemned by civil and religious authorities, Voltaire's work argues passionately for the cause of reason and justice, and criticizes Christian theology and contemporary attitudes towards war and society - and claims, as he regards the world around him: 'common sense is not so common'.

Voltaire, along with other Enlightenment figures such as Montesquieu, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, wrote works and proposed ideas which greatly influenced important thinkers of the French and American Revolutions. He was certainly prolific, writing over 20,000 letters and over 2,000 books and pamphlets

He frequently made use of his works to criticize Catholic Church dogma and the French institutions of his day. For example, A Treatise on Toleration and Other Essays is a collection of anti-clerical works from the last twenty-five years of Voltaire's life, in which he roundly attacks the philosophical optimism of the deists, the inspiration of the Bible, the papacy, and vulgar superstition. These great works reveal Voltaire not only as a polemicist but also as a profound humanitarian.