Oh, man. Candide is one of those books everyone should read once in their lives, if only for the laughs. Written by the genius wit Voltaire in the late eighteenth century, this slim satirical novel is basically an evisceration of the common “optimistic” ideology of the time that basically argued that tragedy (war, natural disasters, crime, murder) is no big deal, because evil serves a greater purpose: to bring good into the world. Voltaire HATED this philosophy, and so he wrote a funny little novel about it. (A funny little novel that cemented his status as one of the great genius thinkers of his time, and ensured his immortality in literature and culture.)
What it’s about: Candide is about optimism. Plotwise, it’s about a man named Candide who lives on a manor estate in Germany and who has been taught by a philosopher named Pangloss that the world they live in is “the best of all possible worlds.” Pangloss is a vehement Optimist, and instills in Candide the idea that tragedies happen for the best (for the greater good), and that the world they live in is the best it could possibly be. Right afterward, Candide and a dozen of other characters undergo a series of absurd, over-the-top, ridiculous sufferings, so that Voltaire can basically make fun of an ideology he abhorred so strongly.
I wasn’t kidding about the laughs! Everything each character goes through is so unbelievably exaggerated, like Pangloss being hanged, burned, and cut open, and yet at the end of the novel he comes rowing up to Candide like nothing ever happened. I read this mainly on audiobook, and I was laughing hysterically on my commute!
Favorite character: Candide. He is an Optimist as well, but he’s also doubtful (slightly) of the ideology. Through his eyes and experiences, the reader can also explore what they think about the ideas presented in the novel.
Favorite quote: When Candide sinks into despair (it doesn’t last for long).
“Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?” “Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.”
Why you should read it: Read Candide because it will challenge your perceptions about the presence of evil in the world. Read it because it’s a classic (yep, it’s that simple sometimes). Read it because you’ll never stop laughing.