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How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer [Paperback]

Sarah Bakewell
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Jan 2011

How to get on well with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love? How to live?

This question obsessed Renaissance nobleman Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-92), who wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. Into these essays 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, events in the appalling civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant bestseller, and over four hundred years later, readers still come to him in search of companionship, wisdom and entertainment - and in search of themselves.

This first full biography of Montaigne in English for nearly fifty years relates the story of his life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored.

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How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer + The Complete Essays
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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (6 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009948515X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099485155
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sarah Bakewell was born in Bournemouth on the English south coast in 1963, but spent most of her childhood in Sydney, Australia, after several years travelling the hippy trail through Asia with her parents. Returning to Britain, she studied philosophy at the University of Essex and worked as a curator of early printed books at London's Wellcome Library for ten years before devoting herself to full-time writing in 2002. After a few years living in the Italian countryside, she has returned to urban life in London, where she teaches creative writing at City University, London, and for the Open University.

Her three books are all biographies, but the latest, 'How to Live: a life of Montaigne', is also an exploration of philosophical questions, not least the one posed by its title: How does one live well?

Product Description


"With this splendidly conceived and exquisitely written double biography - of both Montaigne the man and Montaigne the book - Sarah Bakewell should persuade another generation to fall in love with Montaigne" (Sunday Times)

"How to live is a superb, spirited introduction to the master, and should have its readers rushing straight to the essays themselves" (Adam Thorpe Guardian)

"Sarah Bakewell has written a marvellously confident and clear introduction to Montaigne...a rare achievement. Sarah Bakewell deserves congratulations for opening Montaigne to new readers so very appealingly" (Evening Standard)

"Illuminating and humane book... It's rare to come across a biographer who remains so deliciously fond of her subject... How to Live will delight and illuminate" (Independent)

"Bakewell writes with verve. This is an intellectually lively treatment of a Renaissance giant and his world" (Daily Telegraph)

Book Description

Part biography, part self-help, an original, funny and moving portrait of Montaigne, Renaissance nobleman and essayist.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's nothing new under the sun 27 Jan 2010
Montaigne's collected essays is one of the best "dipping" books you can get. Although philosophical they are written with a lightness of touch that make them as accessible a set of treatises as you will get and as valid today as they were when they were written. Sarah Bakewell takes some of these essays and relates them to modern - and historical - life whilst also providing us with a biography of Montaigne and a picture of his times as well.

This book is an immense achievement, thoroughly enjoyable,and in no way "difficult" so give it a go if you are in any way interested in the human condition.

It has quite encouraged me to dust down that old volume of essays and have another "dip" or two.
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
By Rosie B
Oh how I wish this book had been around when I was a university student reading Montaigne! Sarah Bakewell brings the reader on a delightful journey of exploration around this Renaissance giant and his world. She cheekily adopts Montaigne's own meandering structure, freeing herself from biographical convention. Instead, she explores Montaigne's life and thought through 20 "How to" chapters - "How to live: see the world", "How to live: use little tricks", and so on. That Montaigne lends himself to such a contemporary structure gives some idea of how completely ground-breaking his 'Essais' were. Their free-flowing, self exploratory style were Europe's first example of, as Bakewell puts it, "writing about oneself in order to create a mirror in which other people recognise their own humanity". She does him justice, and the apparent informality of her approach is deceptive. She effortlessly contextualises the man in his time and place, evoking the life of a provincial nobleman living amid the seething restlessness of a France at war with itself over religion. Bakewell's book sent me flying back to my old copy of the `Essais' - there can be no greater endorsement of an effective biography!
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79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first blogger...and he loved his cat too 2 Feb 2010
By J. Coulton VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Two weeks ago I hadn't even heard of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne - now, thanks to an obvious labour of love by Sarah Bakewell, I feel that I know him and like him, very well indeed. Montaigne appears to have been the first blogger, even before computers were invented. He was a Renaissance writer, who was also a magistrate and later major in his native Bordeaux, who retired to his family vineyard to write about life in general, and nothing in particular. In doing so he gained an army of fans, got his books banned by the Catholic Church in France, and had a jolly good time along the way.

Montaigne has won esteemed fans across the ages including the impressive collective minds of Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Voltaire; Virginia Woolf; and Bernard Levin. Now that is a list of heavyweight thinkers if ever there was one. But what is all the fuss about? Well Montaigne was the first write to put down on record exactly what he thought about everyday aspects of his life, and what he thought about them. A veritable latter day Bridget Jones without the angst. He invented the `stream of consciousness' long before the term itself was coined. As Sarah Bakewell observes, `most of his thought consists of a series of realisations that life is not as simple as he has just made it out to be.'

His personal epiphany seems to have come with a near death experience when still a young man, when to outward observers he was in so much pain he was trying to rip his chest open with his bare hands; but to Montaigne himself he was transported to ecstasies of delight internally. He seems never to have taken life at face value again, but been keen to live each day as it comes, and to take each one by the scruff of the neck.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Sarah Bakewell has provided me with a highly accessible book of wisdom in How to Live - A life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. The added value of her book is that she has extracted the core of Montaigne's thought but set it in the context of a very readable biography, containing not just the story of his life, but also the historical context in which he lived.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592) had a successful career as a Counselor in the Bordeaux Parliament and in recognition of his services was awarded the highest honour of the French nobility. However, he tired of public life and at the age of 38 retired to his Chateau to live a life of solitude among the 1500 books in his library, where he began work on his Essays.

Sarah Bakewell has somehow taken the 16th century material of the Essays and has distilled them into a very readable book for the 21st century. Understanding that few people have the time to wander through the 1000 page original, she had summarised Montaignes messages in 20 chapters, with titles such as:

* How to Live - Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow witted,
* How to Live - Survive love and loss
* How to Live - Wake from the sleep of habit
* How to Live - Reflect on everything, regret nothing.

In each of these chapters, she takes a free-ranging journey through Montaigne's life, providing biographical material which explains how he arrived at his conclusions, and also showing what people down the centuries have made of the essays.

This book confirms my belief that the best place to learn the lessons of life is in the everyday.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Published 15 days ago by Paul B. Schoolman
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
good book my therapist told me to read
Published 17 days ago by Ella
5.0 out of 5 stars Masters The Art of Biography-Writing
This is an outstanding recording and biography of Montaigne. Bakewell isolates particular themes and questions in his Renaissance thinking that resonate with contemporary readers... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dodge City
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book
Sarah Bakewell writes beautifully, with wit and humour. This is the most refreshing book I have read in years. Highly recommended.
Published 5 months ago by MKL
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction
Knowing virtually nothing about Montaigne, I picked this up on a whim and found it an engaging read. Read more
Published 8 months ago by C. Bathgate
5.0 out of 5 stars BOOK OF THE YEAR 2013
This is my "BOOK OF THE YEAR 2013".
Sarah Bakewell writes very well, she managed to write about history of 16th century France, philosophy and a biography and maes it as... Read more
Published 9 months ago by GUY'S BOOKS
5.0 out of 5 stars Adds value and pleasure to reading Montaigne
I was introduced to Montaigne by my S-level teacher. His philosophy, his way of thinking, have stayed with me ever since. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Rumbling Clint
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Live by a woman who knows how to write
I loved this book; it is witty, intelligent and thorough. Sarah Bakewell has researched her subjects life, times and work thoroughly and leaves the reader with the feeling that... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mary E Matthews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to Montaigne
Bakewell expertly mixes information on Montaigne's work and life to enhance our understanding of both. Read more
Published 16 months ago by James R. Modrall
5.0 out of 5 stars An exemplary biographical essay
This book had splendid and well deserved reviews in all the literary press. It is beautifully written, well researched. Montaigne himself would be proud of it.
Published 18 months ago by Carlo Cavicchioli
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