Part biography, part self-help, an original, funny and moving portrait of Montaigne, Renaissance nobleman and essayist
Sarah Bakewell had a wandering childhood in Europe, Australia and England. After studying at the University of Essex, she was a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library before becoming a full-time writer, publishing her highly acclaimed biographies The Smart and The English Dane. She lives in London, where she teaches creative writing at City University and catalogues rare book collections for the National Trust. www.sarahbakewell.com
At the beginning of this delightful book about Michel de Montaigne (1533-92), British author Bakewell (The English Dane) notes that Montaigne's essays "rarely offer to explain or teach anything." There's no moralizing. He wrote about how to live, not how one should live, unlike, for example, Francis Bacon, whose essays are from the same period. Using the question "How to live" as her framework, Bakewell gives us not only a biography of Montaigne but an exploration of the themes of his essays, a history of reaction to them both negative (e.g., Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, T.S. Eliot) and positive (e.g., Denis Diderot, Stefan Zweig, Virginia Woolf), and their implications and value for us today. VERDICT This is a rich book, both because of its subject and because Bakewell has a wondrous way with words. It's an exceptionally readable explication of serious ideas, drawn from a man whom we could all benefit from knowing better. Readers who have appreciated Alain de Botton's popular excursions into philosophy, e.g., How Proust Can Change Your Life, will love this book as well.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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 Etienne de La Boetie, his exploration of Hellenic philosophies, and his topics that would resonate with later Renaissance scholars and general readers alike. Blakewell (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." Blakewell 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. (Oct.) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
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 *