Month: September 2008

Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire

Disclaimer: Since I’ve started school, my reading time has been spent primarily on textbooks. This is one of them. I want to assure you all, though, that I will be reading fascinating things this semester and that I will review them all for this blog. Also, there are some books that have been sent to me by publishers in good faith, and I hope to have them all read and reviewed very soon. So, if you notice large gaps of time in between reviews, just know that I am feverishly reading all my assigned texts and reading everything else in between essays. Now, on with the review!

Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire

Translated by Theodore Besterman

Date of Publication: 1764 (my edition, 2004 by Penguin Books)

Number of Pages: 400

Synopsis (from back cover): Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, first published in 1764, is a series of short, radical essays, which form a brilliant and bitter analysis of the social and religious conventions that 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 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”.

Review: The issues explored in this book are still relevant today. I found myself agreeing with a lot of his views, especially those on Tolerance and Beauty. His definition of beauty, of its relativism, is often repeated today: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This is of course true, but often forgotten in today’s Hollywood-obsessed world. We are barraged by images of stick-thin models and actresses and told that this is the standard of beauty. The truth is, there is no standard of beauty. Even Voltaire, almost 250 years ago, understood this.

His views on Tolerance, however, are even more relevant today. In our deeply divided society, it’s becoming more and more obvious that there is a lack of tolerance. I even admit that I have had a less than tolerant attitude toward certain right-wing politicians. Voltaire also states, quite emphatically, that Christians, although their religion preaches tolerance, are actually the most intolerant people in the world. Again, I agree with this statement and believe it remains true today. I believe there is too much self-righteousness and a quickness to proselytize in modern Christianity that takes away from its message of love, peace, and yes, tolerance.

These were not the only essays that touched me. The entire book is filled with diverse subjects, and will surely appeal to a wide range of modern readers. You don’t have to agree with all his views to appreciate Voltaire’s intelligence and quick wit. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in philosophy, history, or political science, and it was a wonderful treat to get to read this for class credit!

Rating: 9.5/10

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BTT: Peer Pressure

“I was looking through books yesterday at the shops and saw all the Twilight books, which I know basically nothing about. What I do know is that I’m beginning to feel like I’m the *only* person who knows nothing about them.

Despite being almost broke and trying to save money, I almost bought the expensive book (Australian book prices are often completely nutty) just because I felt the need to be ‘up’ on what everyone else was reading.

Have you ever felt pressured to read something because ‘everyone else’ was reading it? Have you ever given in and read the book(s) in question or do you resist? If you are a reviewer, etc, do you feel it’s your duty to keep up on current trends?” [from 9/04/08]

My Answer: I once gave into peer pressure and bought The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, simply because I had heard s much about it. People had said that it changed their lives, and I was interested it see if it lived up to its hype. Although the book was entertaining, it didn’t change my life. That was the first and last time I ever gave into peer pressure.

Although I have many “trendy” books on my TBR list, I may never get around to reading them. In fact, I often find myself shying away from the popular bestsellers, and I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s the bohemian in me, the part of me that wants to be separate from the pack. I’m happier re-reading old favorites and discovering classics. The only time I’ll read a bestseller is if it’s more that 50 years old!

Except Harry Potter. I love Harry Potter.