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How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer
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How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  3,851 Ratings  ·  575 Reviews
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? This question obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, considered by man
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Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Other Press (first published 2010)
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William1
Mar 24, 2011 William1 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk, 21-ce, biography
This is an excellent book. I enjoyed Michel de Montaigne's The Complete Essays immensely when I read it some years ago. Yet one leaves the Essays, or at least I did, with little understanding of how Montaigne's thought fits into an overall historical context. Like most people today I was not trained in the "good letters." Moreover, being slow-witted, I do not possess the capacity for fielding more than a few philosophical abstractions at a time. So the great philosophers have always been rather ...more
Ken
This was supposed to be boring. It's about Michel de Montaigne, after all. Michel de Who? You know, the dude who wrote yet another one of those classics we use as doorstops, in this case, The Complete Essays.

So why did I read it? One, I got an ARC, which never hurts. Two, I kept running into hosanna after hosanna in the press. And STILL I went into it with low expectations. It sure looked like the type of book where you enter at your own risk and exit at everyone else's risk (make way!).

Wrong,
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Courtney Johnston
Oh, fuck it. I just spent forty minutes writing up what was going to be my best review ever, and lost it by accidentally flipping to Wikipedia. Here's the dim reflection of what might have been ....

I have been trying to read Montaigne's essays for about 12 years now. Montaigne entered my consciousness in my first year at university, when I somehow picked up the notion that every well-rounded reader should be acquainted with his writing.

However, my every attempt to grapple with the Essays has thu
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Chris
Feb 15, 2011 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On reading about Montaigne while sitting on trains

Most mornings I step onto the last carriage of the train and wander down the aisle to the small seat at the very back. This space is separated from the rest of the passengers by a half-wall and a dirty, square window. Unlike the other seats, there is a small bench where I can my rest belongings and, on rare mornings like this one, tap away on a rickety netbook.

My wife and a couple of friends inhale several books a week before diligently hammering
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Riku Sayuj

Bakewell's work is too structured and readable to be a modern re-mix of Montaigne! Bakewell takes us through Montaigne's life even as we are taken through the essays and their evolution. To top it off we are also taken through the evolving reception of the essays and of the changing reflections that various readers of various generations and centuries found in them. In the end we are given not only a life of Montaigne but a glimpse at four centuries of Montaigne reading. The book is hard to capt
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Roy Lotz
It had the perfect commercial combination: startling originality and easy classification.

With the state of the world—especially of the United States—growing more unsettling and absurd by the day, I felt a need to return to Montaigne, the sanest man in history. Luckily, I had Bakewell’s book tucked away in the event of any crisis of this kind; and I’m happy to report it did take the edge off.

How to Live is a beguiling mixture. While purportedly a biography of Montaigne, it is also, as many revi
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Jan-Maat
A cleverly digressive account of Montaigne, less a biography, more of an attempt to tell stories of Montaigne's life in the style of his essays, taking in his historical context and the ongoing reception of the man and his works all branching out from the question "how to live" - and in order to offer maximum value to the reader Bakewell offers not a single miserly answer, but a full twenty answers - one for almost everybody, all gleaned from Montaigne. in short nomen est omen and Sarah has bak ...more
Marcus
Despite some initial warning signs (enumerated list, self help), the fantastic cover art and the fact that this book is about Montaigne drew me in. I've started reading his Essays several times and always bailed for one reason or another. I picked this up hoping it would give me some context and get me more excited to read, and maybe even finish the essays. It did. How to Live isn't just a biography of Montaigne, it's a history of Essays with a ton of rich context and interesting descriptions of ...more
Fionnuala
May 27, 2011 Fionnuala rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ongoing, essays
If Montaigne were alive today, he probably would have been a blogger. One of the more interesting ones...
Trish
When the publishing industry is in decline and our expectation of instant gratification make TV and the internet our primary sources for news, one would have to ask oneself: is this the best time to publish a new book on the philosophy of a discursive French essayist who died over 400 years ago? Of course, the answer would have to be “it depends.” Sarah Bakewell has managed to make Michel de Montaigne seem relevant, perhaps even revolutionary, but certainly eminently likeable. Montaigne would ha ...more
Brad Lyerla
Jan 21, 2013 Brad Lyerla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I bought this book not knowing what to expect and, therefore, expecting very little. What a pleasant surprise. And pleasant is the right word for HOW TO LIVE. It is one of the most pleasantly thought-provoking books in memory. Part biography, part literary investigation, part historical commentary and part philosophy, Bakewell has written a smart and satisfying book that can be read quickly. I thought Bakewell's format (twenty attempts to answer a question) might be distracting, but not at all. ...more
Buck
Dec 12, 2011 Buck rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life-writing
I dunno. I was expecting something a little jazzier, a little more hip to the jive. The title and subtitle seem to promise a searching, po-mo genre bender, but How to Live is a fairly conventional biography that could have been written at any time in the last fifty years or so. The author comes across as an over-earnest popularizer: "See, kids? Isn’t Montaigne cool? Now I’m going to tell you about the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, which is also super interesting. But first we have to go all th ...more
Mohammad
Oct 15, 2016 Mohammad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
نتيجه ي پنج سال بندگي داوطلبانه ي نويسنده نزد مونتني، كتابي بوده كه در واقع مثل خود مقالات مونتني نوشته شده: عنوان بعضي فصل ها ارتباط زيادي با متن اون فصل نداره و گاهي به بيراهه مي ره اما هر دفعه بر مي گرده. شايد از اين بهتر نمي شد اين كتاب رو نوشت
Owlseyes
Dec 02, 2014 Owlseyes marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy



"Cicero says—[Tusc., i. 31.]—"that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die."

in Essays (CHAPTER XIX——THAT TO STUDY PHILOSOPY IS TO LEARN TO DIE)






I listened to an interview the author gave on her book. Some ideas ahead.

(a) Michel Montaigne (1533-1592) was a French magistrate who, by the age of 37, felt the need to “retire from active duty”. His father having just died, made MM to inherit a wine estate. So, he dedicated his remaining years to reflection; some of this, on hi
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Lukas Prytikin
Jan 22, 2015 Lukas Prytikin rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
BRILLIANT - simply brilliant !
Caren
Dec 11, 2011 Caren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Oh my, oh my, this is just a lovely book. It is not a "self-help" book (in the conventional sense), although you can't help but come away from it the richer; nor is it just a biography of one long gone Frenchman. This is a book about conversation, the conversation spun out through the ages, about what on earth we fragile humans are doing here on this planet. The conversation stretches back to the ancients whom Montaigne attempted to channel, and up through modern scholars who have sought to cha ...more
Genevieve
Michel de Montaigne: Definitely on my list of famous-people-I’d-like-to-have-dinner-with.

I was surprised to learn that Montaigne started writing pretty late in life—not until after he’d reach the ripe old age of 39—completing 107 essays before his death at the end of the 16th century. I first encountered Montaigne’s Essays as a freshman in college. I rarely remember the loftier chapters from him; mostly what I do remember are those lessons on the profoundly basic stuff. Collectively, these jot
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Lawyer
I've not read Montaigne's Essays. But I will because of Bakewell's intriguing biography of Montaigne and her historical overview of how his work has been interpreted by those who have read them since they were first published.

Montaigne was fortunate to be the third generation of a family not involved in the merchant trade. As a result he was considered a noble. It was not a status that he sought, but it was bestowed upon him by the culture in which he was born.

He was an introspective man who clo
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Ellie
How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Bakewell is an examination of both the life and work of Montaigne, the 16th writer who basically invented the art of the personal essay.

I first read Montaigne in college and fell in love with him. In my mid-twenties, swept up in an excess of emotions, he seemed too restrained, too balanced. In my 30s, he once again appealed to my desire to live a more self-accepting, balanced life but I was too busy with c
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K
Dec 08, 2010 K rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K by: Amazon Best Books of 2010
This highly original biography of a man who may well have been the world's first blogger was a very pleasant surprise. Using the life of Michel de Montaigne as a springboard, Bakewell touches on a wide range of topics and historical periods.

Montaigne, a 16th century landowner, magistrate, and mayor turned writer, authored a famous collection of essays on topics that interested him. Montaigne's stream of consciousness seems to have gone relatively unchecked as he took the reader to all sorts of
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Joseph
Feb 15, 2011 Joseph rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I can't decide whether the fact that I wish I'd just read Montaigne's Essays instead of Bakewell's book is a criticism or an endorsement. The author certainly presents an enlightening view of the essayist, explicating not only his writing, but also his personal life and the context of the historical events through which he lived. Even the structure of the book, elaborating on twenty possible Montaigne-ian answers to the question of how we should live, manages to be both engaging and appropriate ...more
Alia S
Aug 14, 2014 Alia S rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish there were more books like this, more friendly classics best-of’s. Because, listen: I went to decent California public schools, I swear—I am basically literate and generally curious—but they were still California public schools: the reading lists equipped us with better-than-average cultural sensitivity but ze-ro foundation. No joke, the first time I ever heard Montaigne’s name was in that Kanye spoof, “Bitches in Bookshops.” (That shit cray, ain’t it, A? / What you reading? / De Montaign ...more
Douglas Dalrymple
Oct 15, 2010 Douglas Dalrymple rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Four stars for subject matter, three stars for authorial treatment. Being a great admirer of Montaigne I could hardly fail to enjoy this book, which might serve as a goodish introduction to the 'Essays' if it weren't better, in the end, to simply read the 'Essays' themselves without introduction. But there's a lot of helpful biographical detail here, and I enjoyed Bakewell's tracing of the history of the Essays' reception and interpretation over the years. Where Bakewell occasionally lost my ent ...more
Peter Clothier
I was delighted to see, in yesterday's New York Times, this Conversation Across Centuries With the Father of All Bloggers, by Patricia Cohen. The "father of all bloggers" is, of course, Michel de Montaigne, the sixteenth century master of the essay. It's true that we all walk in his shoes. Or rather, we stumble along as best we can in shoes that are way too elegant for most of us. It's to him, in good part, that I owe my love of this particular literary form.



I first read Montaigne when I was a s
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Vincent
Aug 27, 2012 Vincent rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
If you have never heard of Montaigne, you might be excused. If you have never read his "essays" it would not be surprising. But having said that if you do not at least read this book you will be disappointed. How to Live: Or a life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts to an Answer uses some of the authors essays to answer this question - How to Live? It then uses the answer to give a biography of Montaigne and show his influence on modern thought. This is the man who essentially expl ...more
Nina Sankovitch
Jan 26, 2011 Nina Sankovitch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
or those looking for a guide on how to live, Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live or A Life of Montaigne won’t give it to them. But what Bakewell does give is a marvelous biography of a captivating man. Montaigne was intelligent, funny, analytical, and most of all, very observant, both of himself and of the 16th century world around him. Yes, Bakewell does title each chapter with tidbits of advice (“How to Live? Be Born” or “Use Little Tricks” or “Reflect on everything; regret nothing“) but the best par ...more
AdiTurbo
Dec 18, 2016 AdiTurbo rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
DNF. Very boring, unnecessary details, too few actual teachings of Montaigne. Written in a convoluted and non-straightforward way for no apparent reason, this biography masquerades itself as a sort of self-help book, which keeps telling us how great Montaigne was without really showing us why. I'll just read the original stuff, thank you.
Ryan Holiday
Jun 22, 2012 Ryan Holiday rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got an early copy of this book for a project I am working on. It is spectacular. The book was a bestseller in the UK and was featured in a 6 part series in The Guardian. The format of the book is a bit unusual, instead of chapters it is made up of 20 Montaigne style essays that discuss the man from a variety of different perspectives. I'm very into Montaigne at the moment, as he is an interesting counter to the Stoics and to the Epicureans. More accurately, he is a combination of the two plus ...more
Emily
After two somewhat lacklaster reading experiences at the end of January, I'm happy for the opportunity to write about a book with which I was passionately engaged: Sarah Bakewell's How to Live is, in my opinion, how literary biography should be written. Or, more specifically, it's the way this literary biography should be written: a perfect match of subject and approach which was a joy from cover to cover.

Given that I just went into my love affair with Montaigne's peregrinatory style of "acciden
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Jo Walton
This is a very odd book.

It's partly a biography of Montaigne, partly an exploration of his philosophy, and partly a consideration of his reception. It's organized through the philosophy, but the questions and answers are arranged such that it also advances chronologically through Montaigne's life.

It works much better than I would have imagined from a description, but I'm not sure who the intended audience is. I've read Montaigne's Essays, so for me a lot of this was duplication. But if I hadn't
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“Over the centuries, this interpretation and reinterpretation creates a long chain connecting a writer to all future readers- who frequently read each other as well as the original. Virginia Woolf had a beautiful vision of generations interlinked in this way: of how "minds are threaded together- how any live mind is of the very same stuff as Plato's & Euripides... It is this common mind that binds the whole world together; & all the world is mind." This capacity for living on through readers' inner worlds over long periods of history is what makes a book like the 'Essays' a true classic. As it is reborn differently in each mind, it also brings those minds together.” 12 likes
“Seneca put it, life does not pause to remind you that it is running out.” 9 likes
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