We think of Voltaire as the archetypal figure of the enlightenment; in his own time he was also the most famous and controversial figure in Europe. This dazzling new biography celebrates his extraordinary life.
Davidson tells the whole, rich story of Voltaire’s life (1694-1778): his early imprisonment in the Bastille; exile in England and his mastery of English; an obsession with money, of which he made a huge amount; a scandalous love life; a long exile on the borders of Switzerland; his human-rights campaigns and his triumphant return to Paris to die there as celebrity extraordinaire. Throughout all of this, Voltaire’s life was always informed by two things: a belief in the essential value of toleration in the face of fanaticism; and in the right of every man to think and say what he liked.
It is rare to have such a vivid portrait of a great man.
Probing the life and work of Kurt Gödel, Incompleteness indelibly portrays the tortured genius whose vision rocked the stability of mathematical reasoning—and brought him to the edge of madness.
Once upon a time, philosophy was a dangerous business—and for no one more so than for Baruch Spinoza, the seventeenth-century philosopher vilified by theologians and political authorities everywhere as “the atheist Jew.” As his inflammatory manuscripts circulated underground, Spinoza lived a humble existence in The Hague, grinding optical lenses to make ends meet. Meanwhile, in the glittering salons of Paris, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was climbing the ladder of courtly success. In between trips to the opera and groundbreaking work in mathematics, philosophy, and jurisprudence, he took every opportunity to denounce Spinoza, relishing his self-appointed role as “God’s attorney.”
In this exquisitely written philosophical romance of attraction and repulsion, greed and virtue, religion and heresy, Matthew Stewart gives narrative form to an epic contest of ideas that shook the seventeenth century—and continues today.
It is not hard to see why Spinoza's Treatise was so important or so controversial, or why the uproar it caused is one of the most significant events in European intellectual history. In the book, Spinoza became the first to argue that the Bible is not literally the word of God but rather a work of human literature; that true religion has nothing to do with theology, liturgical ceremonies, or sectarian dogma; and that religious authorities should have no role in governing a modern state. He also denied the reality of miracles and divine providence, reinterpreted the nature of prophecy, and made an eloquent plea for toleration and democracy.
A vivid story of incendiary ideas and vicious backlash, A Book Forged in Hell will interest anyone who is curious about the origin of some of our most cherished modern beliefs.