Stephen Durrant's Reviews > How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer

How to Live by Sarah Bakewell
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's review
Jul 04, 2012

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 wealth of information about Montaigne and his times. She also shows how differently Montaigne has been read through the centuries, teaching us, in the process, a great deal about such later Montaigne readers as Descartes, Pascal, Nietzsche, Virginia Woolf and so forth. One concern: anyone who moves from this fairly easy, well-organized read to Montaigne's essays is in for something of a surprise. Bakewell, with her repeated warnings about the Montaigne's somewhat rambling, quick-shifting essays, tries to prepare us, but it is still a very large leap. The twenty-first century, to put it simply, just isn't the same as the sixteenth, in case you haven't noticed.
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