Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer” as Want to Read:
How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,347 Ratings  ·  518 Reviews
Brilliant, original, funny and moving — a vivid portrait of Montaigne, showing how his ideas gave birth to our modern sense of our inner selves, from Shakespeare's plays to the dilemmas we face today.

How to get on well 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 bi
Hardcover, 387 pages
Published February 16th 2010 by Chatto & Windus (first published 2010)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about How to Live, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about How to Live

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
May 08, 2016 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
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
Feb 20, 2012 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
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
Mar 26, 2012 Marcus rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jan 25, 2015 Fionnuala rated it really liked it
Shelves: ongoing, essays
If Montaigne were alive today, he probably would have been a blogger. One of the more interesting ones...
Jan 15, 2012 Buck rated it it was ok
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
Mar 10, 2016 Owlseyes marked it as to-read
Shelves: philosophy

"Cicero says—[Tusc., i. 31.]—"that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self 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
Lukas Prytikin
Apr 15, 2015 Lukas Prytikin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
BRILLIANT - simply brilliant !
Dec 11, 2011 Caren rated it it was amazing
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
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
Douglas Dalrymple
Oct 15, 2010 Douglas Dalrymple rated it really liked it
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
Dec 09, 2010 K rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
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
Brad Lyerla
May 18, 2016 Brad Lyerla rated it it was amazing
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
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
Feb 26, 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 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
Nancy Burns
Jun 24, 2014 Nancy Burns rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a refreshing book with insight into Montaigne the man and his Essay's.
The quote I will remember the most:
"By understanding that age does NOT make one wise on attains a kind of wisdom after all...."
Learning to live, in the end is learning to live with imperfections in this way, and even to embrace it.

Here is my review:
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
Stephen Durrant
Jul 04, 2012 Stephen Durrant rated it really liked it
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
Jan 12, 2013 Ashley rated it really liked it
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
Feb 08, 2011 Alistair rated it it was amazing
montaigne was a landowner , wine producer , diplomat ,mayor and writer who lived in 16th century france .
He wrote essays are he is often described in an attempt to sell him to a modern audience as the first blogger .
he wrote ruminative essays on what he saw before him in his daily life from a humanist non religious viewpoint .
this book is part biography and part a look at his philosophy . Each chapter is headed in a way that takes the reader through an important part of his life in seeking to a
Aug 29, 2013 Sandeep rated it liked it
This book is a biography of the life of Montaigne, the legacy and importance of his essays and how he answered the question of "How To Live?" This book introduced me to idea of keeping a commonplace book, which is a book that contains a collection of quotations based on themes. After reading the book, I'm interested in creating my own commonplace book and I will recommend that friends do the same. Reading about Montaigne also reminded me the importance of writing and recording my thoughts on a d ...more
Jan 17, 2012 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 10, 2012 Ashley rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Because We Say So (City Lights Open Media)
  • The Kenneth Williams Diaries
  • Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche
  • When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing with Me?: Montaigne and Being in Touch with Life
  • Meetings with Morrissey
  • The Wire: Truth Be Told
  • The Complete Works
  • Boswell's Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson
  • At Large and at Small: Familiar Essays
  • Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity
  • The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza & the Fate of God in the Modern World
  • I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana
  • Montaigne
  • The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays
  • Philosophy and Social Hope
  • The Necrophiliac
  • The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life
  • Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer

Share This Book

“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.” 7 likes
“Seneca put it, life does not pause to remind you that it is running out.” 6 likes
More quotes…