Montaigne: L'arte di vivere
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Montaigne: L'arte di vivere

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  2,070 ratings  ·  386 reviews
Eccentrico, pigro, contraddittorio, smemorato, Montaigne è il filosofo che infranse un tabù e parlò di sé in pubblico. Dopo oltre quattrocento anni, i lettori continuano a tornare da lui in cerca di compagnia, saggezza, intrattenimento - e di se stessi. Nella sua avversione per la crudeltà, e in generale per qualunque ambizione sovrumana, Montaigne ci esorta a salvaguardar...more
Paperback, 443 pages
Published 2011 by Fazi (first published 2010)
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This is an excellent book. I enjoyed Montaigne's Essays immensely when I read them 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 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 opaque to me. Montaigne, by...more
Montaigne's essays became personal to many through the years. An example was Stefan Zweig who was born in the luckiest of countries and centuries, and had it all fall apart around him.

Zweig survived the First World War, but this was followed by Hitler. He fled Austria and was forced to wander for years as a refugee, first to Britain, then to the US, and finally to Brazil.

He kept sane by writing an essay on Montaigne. "I propose simply to present as an example his fight for interior freedom." Fo...more
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!).

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...more
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...more
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
If Montaigne were alive today, he probably would have been a blogger. One of the more interesting ones...
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
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
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...more
Dec 09, 2010 K rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...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...more
Douglas Dalrymple
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
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
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
In this somewhat unconventionally and thematically organized biography, a biography intended to be neither comprehensive nor definitive but rather an introduction to Montaigne’s essays, putting them into a biographical context, Bakewell constructs questions about “how to live” that correspond to times and experiences in Montaigne’s life, devoting each chapter to a different core topic (“Q. How to live? A. Question everything” “Q. How to live? A. Do a good job, but not too good a job”). Her writi...more
Adding this one to abandoned books. Made it through the first four or five chapters; skimmed the rest. Basically, it boils down to this: As the result of a near-death experience in his mid-30s, Montaigne decided he “would live for himself rather than for duty.” (Or as he put it, “Let us cut loose from all the ties that bind us to others; let us win from ourselves the power to live really alone and to live that way at our ease.” Of course! Easy, self-centered living. That’s what it’s all about, r...more
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...more
I was not impressed with Montaigne's philosophy per se, and Sarah Bakewell could have condensed this book to half its size and more effectively communicated her message. I was impressed with Montaigne's chameleon ability to survive in a time when the church was even more militant than it is today. He seems to have had the uncanny ability to give a nod to Christianity,(enough to please the censors) and then proceed to philosophize with no hint of religion, quite contrary to the style of the day....more
This is a biography with three broad strands. One is an account of Montaigne’s life, the second is an analysis of his philosophy and the third is the reception the Essays have received over time from different audiences.

Open and accessible, this is as good a place to start as any if you’re coming to Montaigne for the first time. Having said that I still learned a great deal from this book. Even better are the Essays themselves. The earlier Donald Frame translation is probably still the best. The...more
I've been reading this book off and on since Christmas. There is no rush to finish because it's all good. Montaigne: c'est moi! Everybody says that when they discover the original Modernist.

In Montaigne's era, it was Catholics versus Protestants in a series of wars lasting his whole life. He had friends on both sides. He served 4 years as Mayor of Bordeaux and was an adviser to the King.

Uncertainty is the condition of life in the modern world. That was not a problem for Montaigne. Uncertainty is...more
Ken Baumann
Pure pleasure. I'm only 70 pages into Frame's translation of ESSAYS, so this served as a sort of quick, Matrix-esque injection of Montaigne's historical context, and a frame for the rest of my time with the ESSAYS.

This book shows Montaigne as a charming, kind, and casual man. It shows his intent on moderation, empathy, and practical self-doubt. Overall: wish Montaigne was still around so I could eat sushi with him.

Read this if you're at all interested in living thoughtfully.
Nina Sankovitch
For 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 pa...more
Nina Sankovitch
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
I first encountered Montaigne in a way I think Montaigne himself would have found appropriate - in a required English class in college, a class I had little interest in taking, but had no choice but to take if I wanted to complete my major. We read Montaigne's "Apology for Raymond Sebond," and I grew to love his overall outlook on life, an outlook that many people still find relevant over five centuries later.

In "How to Live," Bakewell takes the question that has troubled humankind for ages, and...more
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

PRE-READ almost:

Have always found Montaigne(1533- 1592) a sympathetic and somehow modern character. However several attempts to read his essays have proved fruitless to my great disappointment. I put it down to a poor translation or the too faithful rendering of the text into English, the style being so antiquated, that, like Shakespeare's plays, it is almost like a foreign language.

At least 3 books have recently been printed that I thought might give me a leg-up into Montaigne's essays, a crutc...more
Writing such an appealing and informative introduction to Montaigne is no easy task, but Bakewell does just this quite skillfully. The book is meant to be popular, which automatically condemns it with some academic readers, but we humanities educators should care much, much more about bringing our subjects and interests to larger audiences. "How to Live" presents Montaigne's "Essays" almost as a self-help book. Together with twenty answers to the question "How to Live," Bakewell presents a wealt...more
On reading about Montaigne while taking trains around the south-west of France:

A few years ago, I decided to review every book I read, and every film I watched. Mindfulness, I thought. Mindfulness was the goal: to be aware of the things I consumed: what the author/director/musician attempted to do, how I reacted to the work, what other pieces or traditions it might link to, and so on. The idea was that I would stop reading to tick books off lists but become truly aware of what each tick represen...more
I feel like I know a wonderful man. The 20 chapters jump around in his life, but apparently his essays are rambling walks through life as well. I will need to read them first hand now.

I really like this paragraph from the end of the book which sums up why we need Montaigne in our world 400+ years later (p.327):

The twenty first century has everything to gain from a Montaignean sense of life, and, in it's most troubled moments so far, it has been sorely in need of a Montaignean politics. It could...more
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“As history has repeatedly suggested, nothing is more effective for demolishing traditional legal protections than the combined claims that a crime is uniquely dangerous, and that those behind it have exceptional powers of resistance. [On witchburning in France during the 16th Century.]” 2 likes
“He blushed to see other Frenchmen overcome with joy whenever they met a compatriot abroad. The would fall on each other, cluster in a raucous group, and pass whole evenings complaining about the barbarity of the locals. These were the few who actually noticed that locals did things differently. Others managed to travel so ‘covered and wrapped in a taciturn and incommunicative prudence, defending themselves from the contagion of an unknown atmosphere’ that they noticed nothing at all.” 1 likes
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