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The Complete Essays

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  11,993 ratings  ·  388 reviews
Michel de Montaigne was one of the most influential figures of the Renaissance, singlehandedly responsible for popularising the essay as a literary form. This Penguin Classics edition of The Complete Essays is translated from the French and edited with an introduction and notes by M.A. Screech.

In 1572 Montaigne retired to his estates in order to devote himself to leisure,
Paperback, 1344 pages
Published February 25th 1993 by Penguin Classics (first published 1588)
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Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Okay I've read enough of this now, in a wide variety of settings, at miscellaneous times, within sundry atmospheres, such as late nights in bed under the lamp's pale glow, bright mornings early at certain tables or on metros, over coffees and over beers or over blended rye or such-like things, in times of happiness and times of depression, in times of relative wealth and in times of poverty, in the stark wet heat of summer and the stark dry freeze of winter, under the rapture of autumn foliage a ...more
"I turn my gaze inward, I fix it there and keep it busy. Everyone looks in front of him; as for me; I look inside myself; I have no business but with myself, I take stock of myself, I taste myself… I roll about in myself."
Alas, Montaigne inspires me! The Complete Essays covers all kind of subjects and it is an almost eternal work in progress for me. It honestly deals with humanity itself. Montaigne is entertaining, compelling, and inclined to digression. I read Montaigne at indiscriminate
Roy Lotz
e'ssay. (2) A loose sally of the mind; an irregular indigested piece; not a regular and orderly composition.
—From Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language.

Now I finally have an answer to the famous “desert island book” question: This book. It would have to be. Not that Montaigne’s Essays is necessarily the greatest book I’ve ever read—it’s not. But here Montaigne managed to do something that has eluded the greatest of our modern science: to preserve a complete likeness of a person. Mo
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Inventer--and perfecter--of the "trial composition," essayer. None better, after four centuries, though we have improved lying through essays. We call it "news": global warming? What global warming. NSA Spying? What spying--all legal.
Montaigne can be read a page or two daily, like Gilbert White's "Natural History of Selbourne," Thoreau's Journals, Emily Dickinsons' poems, or the Bible. Two centuries before Natural History of Selbourne, Montaigne doubts "Natural Laws," says no-one agrees on the
Apr 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-pause
I kind of half jokingly refer to this book as "the introverts bible". Certainly a must read, especially for those of us who live a more contemplative life. The Essays are moving and funny, edifying, and at times very sad. Montaigne's observations range from the very specific and particular to the huge and universal. I don't always agree with what he says, but I am engaged nonetheless. I feel as I read this book that I'm always in conversation with him.

I know I will be reading and re-reading The
Dec 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Montaigne is one of my all-time favorite dudes - truly a bridge between eras and endowed with enough sagacity and wisdom to guide a nation. Wonderful and warm humanity and sparklingly sere humor, but he can chuck 'em, too: a handful of quiet paragraphs from his essays on Liars and Cowards scorches the flesh from deceitful bones and craven limbs.

Thanks to a screw-up by the company I ordered Screech's translation from I received two copies - one for my desk at the office, one for the table beside
A Montaigne essay a day keeps the doctor away.

1. We reach the same end by discrepant means ★★★★
2. On sadness ★★★★
The force of extreme sadness inevitably stuns the whole of our soul, impeding her freedom of action.

Chi puo dir com'egli arde e in picciol fuoco
[He who can describe how his heart is ablaze is burning on a small pyre]
Petrarch, Sonnet 137.

3. Our emotions get carried away beyond us
4. How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones
5. Whether the
David Sarkies
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who love philosophical ramblings
Recommended to David by: My bible college lecturer
Shelves: philosophy
A French aristocrat shares his personal opinions
6 January 2013

Normally I would wait until I have finished a book to write a commentary, however this book is a lot different in that is contains a large collection of essays on a multiple of subjects. Secondly, I have not been reading this book continually, but rather picking it up, reading a few essays, and then putting it down again. I originally read a selection of these essays but when I finished it I decided to get my hands on a complete vers
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy-essay
My favorite philosopher, he's anecdotal rather than dialectical/dialogue or logical/mathematical/linguistical. He was the first writer, certainly the first philosopher, who talked about personal experience of living in the body, with a great generosity of spirit towards the flaws of the human being. He's companionable, he makes you feel that being human is a noble and worthwhile thing, even if you're sick or grumpy or overwhelmed with your own failures. People should throw out all their self-hel ...more
Warren Fournier
Jan 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Montaigne strikes me as one of those writers that I would love to have living in our current day. I think we could be friends. He can be self-deprecating and humble, never stubborn because he knows the absolute truth is beyond human comprehension, but hopeful in a greater purpose behind our existence, and he is always curious about anything and everything, which for him can house clues to a greater mystery and a better way for society to engage with this life. And in general, he seems like a ver ...more
I think of Shakespeare, his fame and endurance, and although I am not one to suggest his work doesn't deserve the centrality in the English canon where it sits, I wonder precisely what qualities afford him a seemingly guaranteed immortality. I don't want to think about his poetic skill or his mastery of characterization. Instead, I find it intriguing that the authorship question still has such ground for conversation, if not quite academic relevancy. We don't know Shakespeare the man as much as ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
This time I am not gonna share quotes as there are hundreds of them and many are from authors' quoted by Montaigne. These essays are the kind of stuff I wish I had read when I was younger. It is probably the best kind of eloquence for a non-fiction author - not too heavy on verbosity, matter-of-factly and yet retaining a certain grace.

By 'Grace', I mean a way of holding oneself, I mean a quality which attracts natural respect. Montaigne writes with such grace that even if where his opinions are
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, ethics
A very colourful collection of thoughts/essays, written in a time it was not usual to expose oneself. I admire Montaigne's honesty and straightforwardness. He observes daily live and especially his own behavior. The extensive use of latin citations (as was common use by humanists of that time) was irritating at first, but I got used to it. From a historical point of view his longer essay "Apology for Raymond Sebond" was very interesting; in it Montaigne pointedly acknowledges the limitations of ...more
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindles, own
Montaigne has been an excellent companion during my yard work and gardening chores this spring. The Audible book is based on the Frame translation - some people complain about it because Frame does not use Montaigne's original quotations (just the English translation) while Screech provides the original quotation, plus the English translation. For listening, Frame is great, and both editions are pretty similar to me, as I know no French, Greek, and just a few altar boy Latin words. (The Screech ...more
Michael Canoeist
Jun 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: classics
If you've secretly believed that no person could consider himself educated until he had read Montaigne, among many others -- I am here to set you free. It's not that the inventor of the essay is that terrible; he's OK (though no Aldous Huxley -- those are essays worth reading). He covers a lot of ground, he skips about fearlessly even in one essay, and he has a great way of putting in quotes from his own reading, Juvenal, Ovid, Horace, Catullus, Virgil and Propertius. But he is not a first-class ...more
Jim Coughenour
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: thinkingcap
I've been skipping my way around Montaigne's superb Essays this summer. This is possibly the best bedside book ever – or if you're a morning person, an excellent companion for a leisurely cup of coffee.

Written almost 500 years ago, these essays are as fresh as tomorrow. Montaigne is always ahead of us. His genuinely compassionate, restless and skeptical mind never flags in its humanistic curiosity – and his quiet observations and tentative conclusions will shock even the most jaded reader with a
Sep 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Montaigne is not as much a hard read but a long read. Therefore, I must warn you of that, right from the beginning. The best mindset is to consider this collection of essays as Montaigne's own blog.

In the beginning one cannot say that it is very much a philosophy work. So if one wants to get to the wisdom, probably reading them in order is not the best way to go. So I believe that the best way to read this is to read his longest essay first. It is "An Apology for Raymond Sebond" and it can be f
This is a book I am always reading and have been for years. I rarely read more than an essay at any given time, but what riches Montaigne offers. I'm currently rereading as I read Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: A Life of Montaigne. ...more
Aasem Bakhshi
Oct 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I doubt anyone would be able to understand his own self in as much depth and reveal the insights with as little prejudice as Montaigne did in these essays. These superbly crafted 'trials' gave way to this brilliant literary genre. A must read for all enthusiasts of classical literature. ...more
James Hartley
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a jewel this book is - a real friend.
It's taken me almost a year to read the bugger - reading more or less an essay every day, or every few days, with some missed weeks here and there. It's not a simple read, at least at first, but there are enough bright spots as you go to keep you going and, whether because of his style or your becoming accustomed to Montaigne and his world and manner, it becomes gradually easier and easier to plod through.
The subject, of course, is Montaigne himself and
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sometime in the first half of the 16th century, Montaigne retired to his estate, to write his essays. These essays constitute a deep study about a single person, Montaigne himself. The idea sounds borderline boring but actually is quite fascinating since by learning more about Montaigne we learn something about ourselves.

Such frank and fearless examination of himself set him apart from most who have written before him. Perhaps, He might have been the first 'Modern'' man. His immediate aim was t
Oct 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592) is famous for shutting himself away in a book-lined tower in 1572 and assaying his thoughts and opinions, essentially attempting to discover what, if anything, he really knew about himself and the human condition. Descartes attempted the same sort of venture in 1637 in his three Discourses, prefaced by his celebrated Discourse on Method, in which his starting point was that all he knew for certain was that he existed, and systematically climbed his way out of a ...more
May 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
The only essay that I read in its entirety was the long final essay titled "Of Experience" which endeavors to tell us how to live, so that's what I'm addressing here. The translation I read was by Donald Frame because Harold Bloom recommended it.

Harder to read than I would have liked, primarily because you feel like you have to keep starting over because Montaigne keeps changing his focus -- from sleep to food to ovens to laws to death to disease to . . . .

I envy Michel the peace of mind he se
Going into these essays, I felt, fundamentally, that reading Montaigne was more of an intellectual obligation than something that I actually might enjoy. It was pleasant to be proven wrong. While not life-changing, these are the sorts of solid, liberal ideas that I'm glad could be formulated as early as the Renaissance, and it's extremely nice to see that someone could write something that would so resonate with modern audiences... even jaded college kids like myself. ...more
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading this essay collection has been "a domestic and a private" goal....Montaigne is the originator of the modern essay; he is as foundational to nonfiction as Shakespeare is to drama. ...more
An Idler
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Montaigne was a precocious child, a soldier, man of the court, and magistrate. Then he withdrew to a tower with his library and his most passionate interest - himself, or rather himself as a particular instance of Man, the universal. His essays are literary sorties on various topics, some barely related to the plain meaning of their titles, all laced with the wisdom and elegant wit of the classical authors.

He's an unsystematic thinker but rich with insight, winding and rambling like a vein of go
Jul 01, 2019 rated it liked it
This snotty aristocrat thought he was just SO smart and had just SO much to write down, including tons of boring misogynistic views and dozens of subjects he really didn’t know what he was talking about and certainly didn’t prove throughout. he also wrote dozens of quirky and interesting essays about subjects that surprised me because they seemed so out of place. Until the 5th or 6th that struck me as bizarre, then I realized this is his thing. Politics, mundane topics, religion, friendship, jea ...more
Prooost Davis
Jan 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I've been burdening my Facebook friends with Montaigne quotes for several months now. Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592) was the inventor of the personal essay (in French, essai meaning "attempt"). He did not use the modifier "personal," but he did say that the only subject he felt qualified to write about was himself. With that stated restriction, Montaigne wrote about everything, and brilliantly.

The complete essays run to over 800 pages, but I didn't regret a single page. For the most part, his
Aaron Gertler
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I don't give books any extra points for having been written a long time ago. That said, Montaigne lives up to the hype.

My copy of "The Complete Essays" is scribbled-upon and corner-folded to a greater extent than nearly any other book I own, for the language and the humor and the clarity of the ideas. I read it at a time when I tried to finish every book I started, but still felt comfortable putting it down, picking it up nine months later, putting it down again, and so on.

As far as I know, the
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Montaigne was a 16th century French aristocrat whose father raised him speaking Latin as his native language so that he wouldn't struggle learning it like the other boys. With this book he invented essays and they are some good reading. Each essay tackles a random topic, but he often strays off subject into fun tangents. He stated that all he knows is himself so that is what he wrote about. But really he knew a whole lot about a whole lot. He writes about honor, love, horseback riding, kidney st ...more
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Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance. Montaigne is known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes and autobiography—and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as "Attempts") contains, to this day, some of the most widely ...more

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