Travelling through strange environments, Voltaire's protagonists are educated, often by surprise, into the complexities and contradictions of their world.
Arriving on Earth from the Star Sirius, the gigantic explorer Micromegas discovers a diminutive people with an inflated idea of their own importance in the universe. Babouc in 'The World As It Is' learns that humanity is equally capable of barbarism and remarkable altruism. Other characters in this diverting collection include a little-known god of infidelity, a pretentious graduate who invites a savage to dinner and an Indian fakir who puts up with a bed of nails to gain the adoration of his female disciples.
Whether he is exploring the paradoxes of grief, demanding better education for women, or mocking greedy clerics and the Christian ideal of chastity, Voltaire is always wonderfully provocative. Above all, he shows that in an uncertain, violent world pity and a desire for justice are our only decent responses.