New Book: The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil in the Age of Reason (Steven Nadler)


This looks interesting. I’ve never used a secondary source book of this sort in class, partly because of the traditional preference of the primary sources, partly because I felt it’s not “serious” enough, but I’m considering using this book for my summer class (in addition, of course, to some primary sources) as I myself love to read these sorts of historical/philosophical books.

In the spring of 1672, German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz arrived in Paris, home of France’s two greatest philosopher-theologians of the period, Antoine Arnauld and Nicolas de Malebranche. The meeting of these three men represents a profoundly important moment in the history of philosophical and religious thought.

In The Best of All Possible Worlds, Steven Nadler tells the story of a clash between radically divergent worldviews. At its heart are the dramatic–and often turbulent–relationships between these brilliant and resolute individuals. Despite their wildly different views and personalities, the three philosophers shared a single, passionate concern: resolving the problem of evil. Why is it that, in a world created by an all-powerful, all-wise, and infinitely just God, there is sin and suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people?

The Best of All Possible Worlds brings to life a debate that obsessed its participants, captivated European intellectuals, and continues to inform our ways of thinking about God, morality, and the world.

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of Rembrandt’s Jews, a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize, as well as Spinoza: A Life and Spinoza’s Heresy.

9 thoughts on “New Book: The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil in the Age of Reason (Steven Nadler)

    • Um…wouldn’t the theist say the same thing?

      Mikhail, I’ve never used such a book in any of my courses either. I think if I was teaching Early Modern Philosophy or something like that the book would fit well, but for an introductory course, I’m not so sure.

      • Yeah, but I’m thinking that it might be more fun to read than, say, selections from Leibniz, Arnauld and Malebranche and since summer semester is 8 weeks where one usually has 16, it could, I don’t know, encourage some interest in the ideas via the history of the characters with those ideas. Our usual requirement is to have primary sources from at least two historical periods and other than that, I can do whatever (as long as it’s educational, like movies and such)… I like to read these sorts of books to get in the mood for the period anyway, why not just assign it and read it all together, while supplementing it with primary texts?

  1. LOL! you are funny, Mikhail. Yes, they’re just as annoying and disgusting as believers, and it’s time they were all lumped together, and let them show some individuality (esp. the extreme atheists, who half the time aren’t even sure they are, just decided it was the cooler posture.)

    • That was one of the main reason to consider using this book (now that it’s in paperback) – why try and do the boring lecture on the historical circumstances and the debates when someone’s already done a superb job?

    • kvond,

      Weird synchronicity. I checked out Nadler’s Spinoza biography last week in part because some of your posts got me interested (and I can’t make anything out of the Ethics when I try to read it on its own).

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