Imprisoned in the Bastille at the age of twenty-three for a criminal libel against the Regent of France, Francois-Marie Arouet was freed in 1718 with a new name, Voltaire, and the completed manuscript of his first play, Oedipe, which became a huge hit on the Paris stage in the same year. For the rest of his long and dangerously eventful life, this cadaverous genius shone with uninterrupted brilliance as one of the most famous men in the world. Revered, and occasionally reviled, in the royal courts of Europe, his literary outpourings and fearless campaigning against the medieval injustices of church and state in the midst of the 'Enlightenment' did much to trigger the French Revolution and to formulate the present notions of democracy. But above all, Voltaire was an observer of the human condition, and his masterpiece Candide stands out as an astonishing testament to his unequalled insight into the way we were and probably always will be.
Candide remains politically topical and its McCarthy-era satire has, unfortunately, lost little relevance -- John Allison * Telegraph * It was no fable inhabiting some make-believe or symbolic location; rather, it was a report on the current state of the world, deliberately set among the headlines of the day -- Julian Barnes * Guardian *