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How Did Voltaire Ensure a Win in the Paris Lottery?

The French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet wrote prolifically for 60 years under the pen name Voltaire. He is known today for advocating freedom of speech and separation of church and state. But Voltaire is also known for his brushes with the law. In his early 20s, his caustic wit and scandalous words led to an 11-month stay in the Bastille prison. And in 1729, Voltaire and a mathematician pal figured out a way to rig the lottery -- to the tune of 7.5 million francs, a haul worth tens of millions of dollars in today’s currency. The city of Paris had set up a series of lotteries to repay municipal bonds, but the prizes were greater than the cost of tickets. Voltaire and his friends simply bought up all the available tickets, and happily counted their winnings.

Voltaire's way with words:

  • Voltaire was the author of many influential poems, essays, and books, including Candide and Letters Concerning the English Nation.
  • A strong proponent of civil liberties, Voltaire critiqued everything from organized religion to the justice system, and many of his works were banned in France.
  • Voltaire never married, choosing instead a series of dalliances and long-time lovers. He and his niece, Marie Louise Mignot, lived together from the early 1750s until his death in 1778.
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