I must say, I prefer biographies of this sort. It’s far too arrogant for a biographer to think they can just begin at the beginning and go from there. Bakewell instead takes a more meaningful approach to a thinker, philosopher, and writer four-hundred years and a language removed. She drops in, like a neighbor stops in for a chat. Each chapter approaches the question (his won quest), “How to Live?” with an answer buried in Montaigne’s own writing. Bakewell then expands up this idea by highlighting a trait or era in Montaigne’s life.
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was born in 1533. In 1570, he “dies” when thrown from a horse — or so was thought. He pulls through and the experience changes him forever. He begins to look at life from outside of himself, and thus understand himself better. His stream of consciousness essays are the earliest of their kind. In French, the word essayer means “to try.” In each of his essays, Montaigne tried out different ideas, trains of thought.
Of course, it may not seem that difficult to be introspective with a house like that and an entire tower as a library. But Montaigne was also a public servant and a working landowner. It seems, based on his papers, he took his position in society very seriously and subscribed to noblese oblige.
This book is an excellent introduction to Montaigne, especially since his writings can be a bit overwhelming at first. It should also be a boon for Monataigne enthusiasts. Bakewell sheds light on this influential thinker, places him among the ranks of Aristotle, and Descartes, while at the same time humanizing him. With this book, she proves that philosophy doesn’t have to be boring, dusty or out of reach.
Many thanks to the folks at Other Press for the review copy.
Released October 19, 2010 | Hardcover | 400 pages | ISBN: 978-1-59051-425-2