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How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer Paperback – 6 Jan 2011


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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 x 3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,825 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

Review

"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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

99 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Big Jim TOP 100 REVIEWER on 27 Jan 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Rosie B on 21 Mar 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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80 of 84 people found the following review helpful By J. Coulton VINE VOICE on 2 Feb 2010
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 By A Common Reader TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 4 Mar 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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