Voltaire: A Life
by Ian Davidson
This is a fascinating account of the life of Francois Marie Arouet, better known as the 18th-century French writer Voltaire, called the Father of the Enlightenment because of his belief in tolerance and freedom of speech.
Voltaire in winter: engraving by J. Taylor
(Mary Evans Picture Library)
Davidson’s prose is unstuffy and
very readable; the account is also much enhanced by his inclusion of extracts from Voltaire’s letters and of black and white photos of portraits and sculptures.
It is a very entertaining book that feels almost like reading about a modern-day celebrity as we hear about Voltaire’s love affairs and sex life, diet, spending habits, illnesses and fears. Although I recommend the book I feel it is too detailed and dense for reading groups to tackle.
Voltaire in 1732: engraving by Ficquet after Maurice Quentin de La Tour
Ian Davidson’s book is a thorough, chronological account of Voltaire’s life
and reveals a complex, contradictory
man. Voltaire was often sickly, a bit of a hypochondriac and possibly depressive; he had frequent rivalries with other writers and was constantly at odds with the repressive French state under Louis XV, which led to imprisonment and exiles lasting years in England, Holland and Geneva.
The Bastille: detail from the Turgot map of Paris, 1736
(Houghton Library, Harvard University)
Voltaire is best known now for his entertaining satire on the philosophy of optimism Candide, but he was constantly reinventing himself – classical playwright, satirist, obsequious courtier, financier, businessman and finally champion of human rights and campaigner against miscarriages of justice.
Published by Profile Books