Winner of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
How to get along with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love—such questions arise in most people’s lives. They are all versions of a bigger question: how do you live? How do you do the good or honorable thing, while flourishing and feeling happy?
This question obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Monatigne, perhaps the first truly modern individual. A nobleman, public official and wine-grower, he wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. He called them “essays,” meaning “attempts” or “tries.” Into them, he put whatever was in his head: his tastes in wine and food, his childhood memories, the way his dog’s ears twitched when it was dreaming, as well as the appalling events of the religious civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant bestseller and, over four hundred years later, Montaigne’s honesty and charm still draw people to him. Readers come in search of companionship, wisdom and entertainment—and in search of themselves.
This book, a spirited and singular biography, relates the story of his life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored. It traces his bizarre upbringing, youthful career and sexual adventures, his travels, and his friendships with the scholar and poet Étienne de La Boétie and with his adopted “daughter,” Marie de Gournay. And we also meet his readers—who for centuries have found in Montaigne an inexhaustible source of answers to the haunting question, “how to live?”
Bakewell's biography of Michel de Montaigne (1533 1592), the French nobleman and father of the exploratory, free-floating essay, departs from chronology to present his life through questions and answers ("How to Live? Don't Worry About Death" and "Be Convivial: Live with Others") that consider "the man and writer" as well as the "long party" the "accumulation of shared and private conversation over four hundred years." The author, a British book curator and cataloguer, begins with Montaigne's near-death after a fall from a horse, then traces back to his Latin education, his years in public service, his friendship with tienne de La Bo tie, his exploration of Hellenic philosophies, and his topics that would resonate with later Renaissance scholars and general readers alike. Bakewell (The Smart) enlivens Montaigne's hometown, 16th-century Bordeaux, with a wit that conveys genuine enchantment with her subject. Montaigne preferred biographers who tried to "reconstruct a person's inner world from the evidence." Bakewell honors that perspective by closely examining his writings as well as the context in which they were created, revealing one of literature's enduring figures as an idiosyncratic, humane, and surprisingly modern force. Illus.
An engaging account of Montaigne the man against a vivid backdrop of 16th century France. Highly recommend.
How to live
A "best of practice" guide to living and dying, in the form of 20 questions, drawn from sources going back three thousand years, written by a Frenchman living in the late 1500s. His name was Montaigne. Landowner, lawyer and Mayor, he had a near brush with death, and by almost dying, commenced to write about himself and his world. He published, and invented the genre of personal essay. Author Sarah Bakewell captures not only his world, but effect of Montaigne's writing on the four hundred subsequent years of authors grappling with the everyday mysteries of life and practical things you and I can do to act with honor and grace.
Sarah Bakewell does us a great service by doing a hell of a lot reading; the various authors who read Montaigne and how doing so influenced their work and life and times. Montaigne has never gone out of print as each generation has found meaning for themselves in his musings, meanders which guide us in our own choices about how to live. This book is so worth reading, I read large amounts of it aloud to my wife, who asked for more!
An Excellent Introduction to Montaigne
I took a chance on this book while browsing for something new to read and I could not have been happier. The author gives a fascinating glimpse into Montaigne's life and his influence over the following centuries. I enjoyed reading a chapter each day to inspire a thoughtful mood.
I cannot recommend this book enough.