THE AGE OF VOLTAIRE by Will & Ariel Durant


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Following The Age of Louis KIV, this ninth volume in the Durants' Story of Civilization, sets out with the Regency and closes with the triumph of the Philosophes in France while carrying the general history of Western Europe from 1715 to 1756. It continues the theme predominant in the last volume -- ""that pervasive and continuing conflict between religion and science-plus-philosophy which became a living drama in the eighteenth century, and which has resulted in the great secularism of our times."" ""Fascinated to exuberant prolixity"" by this theme, the Durants provide a period panorama par excellence, a compound of history and biography in which indeed man makes history, not history the man. Voltaire becomes the pivot for the age, with his deification of reason and anti-clerical stance. The authors manage to maintain perspective while picking favorites who delight them (Mme. Pompadour is one particular); they are undismayed by the prospect of conveying the most erudite findings of the times as they marshal a host of scientists and philosophers (always with an interest in their private lives equal to their public ones); they are quite ready to admit no professional competence in dealing with Bach, yet to advance stringent comments on the Mass in B Minor. They reserve their highest acclaim for the France of the Enlightenment where gracious, cultured civilized women made its history ""the most fascinating story in the world."" They are at their enthusiastic best when filling out the portraits of their immense cast, but their compass, their comprehension of the political, social, economic, scientific, philosophic, artistic realities, set in the perspective of their theme, offer a unified over-view of life in France, England, Middle Europe. An epilogue in Elysium permits a confrontation between Pope Benedict XIV and Voltaire which life did not' offer. A popular cultural spectacular.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1965
Publisher: Simon & Schuster