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Alphabet of Wit by Voltaire



This was a hit. I have earned a reputation in my family that I pick up the most ancient and abstruse work available (Dante’s Inferno for instance, or Silas Marner). Unsurprisingly for me – and surprisingly for those who haven’t read anything about or by Voltaire or Dante – their work is far more liberating than most present day writings. And they managed in far fewer pages too. Alphabet of Wit is 62 pages long – blank pages included. It is a collection of very short essays by Voltaire on various topics ranging from Adam to Zeal, and oh, the topics are listed alphabetically. Voltaire’s outlook is refreshingly practical, considering his generation. Even considering our own, actually.

Also, his sense of wry humour – at first a bit stodgy – is very appealing, once you get used to it. Since the essays are short, it is easy to stick it out for pages and get acquainted to his style of writing. Though admittedly, it is a short book and it is hard to say if the style could have survived an entire novella-length. And besides, I did face a bit of a trouble reading it on the bus while on my way to work – there were consecutive pieces on Impotence, Incubi and Kissing (the page between Incubi and Kissing was separated by a paragraph on Justice).

You can’t go about the booklet, looking for entertainment or too much of insight. You just get to know a bit of how Voltaire was (he was pretty cool, it turns out) and take away a few meaningful learnings such as…

“The most moderate, the least worrisome, the most keenly perceptive is the most happy; but unfortunately the most keenly perceptive is often the least moderate. It is not our position, but our disposition which renders us happy. Our disposition depends upon the functioning of our organs, over which we have no control.”

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