The Complete Essays, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (5 ratings)


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, reading and reflection.

There he wrote his constantly expanding 'assays', inspired by the ideas he found in books contained in his library and from his own experience.

He discusses subjects as diverse as war-horses and cannibals, poetry and politics, sex and religion, love and friendship, ecstasy and experience.

But, above all, Montaigne studied himself as a way of drawing out his own inner nature and that of men and women in general.

The Essays are among the most idiosyncratic and personal works in all literature and provide an engaging insight into a wise Renaissance mind, continuing to give pleasure and enlightenment to modern readers. With its extensive introduction and notes, M.A. Screech's edition of Montaigne is widely regarded as the most distinguished of recent times. Michel de Montaigne (1533-1586) studied law and spent a number of years working as a counsellor before devoting his life to reading, writing and reflection.

If you enjoyed The Complete Essays, you might like Francois Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, also available in Penguin Classics. 'Screech's fine version ...must surely serve as the definitive English Montaigne' A.C.

Grayling, Financial Times 'A superb edition' Nicholas Wollaston, Observer


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 1360 pages, index
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Literary essays
  • ISBN: 9780140446043

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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

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"'Look back into your self; get to know your self; hold on to your self.' Bring back to your self your mind and your will which are being squandered elsewhere; you are draining and frittering your self away. They are cheating you, distracting you, robbing you of your self."This is one man's study of himself and his inquiry into his own nature. Through a careful study of himself Montaigne seeks to understand more fully the place of the human soul in the universe. As an autobiography this can feel scattered. Just a glance at the table of contents tells one how diverse the subjects of these essays are: "To philosophize is to learn how to die" or "On the length of life" or "On war horses" or "On a monster child". Montaigne uses these subjects as a starting point (and does not always stick to his announced subject) and always comes back from the subject to his inquiry of himself. Because the books are centered around subjects rather than the chronological story of a life it took me a couple hundred pages before the theme of the book was cemented in my head. By the end of the book I had grown to love Montaigne's wit and charm. He is a person I would love to have some watered down wine with. This book was worth the time and is recommended to anyone who will settle down with it.

Review by

The most modern, and most lion-hearted, sixteenth-century man I know. I get more pure pleasure out of these "Attempts" than any other essays I can think of, and hope that one day I too will be wise enough to uncomplicatedly espouse a motto like "What do I know?" I think of all my struggles with the nature of truth and the good life, and then I think that in some ways you can throw your Derrida in the garbage and just stick with Montaigne's "the only thing certain is that nothing is certain", and "nothing is su fully believed as that which least is known". And when bad things happen, I think about how I may not be able to govern events, but I can surely govern myself. And that I can get up in the morning and remind myself that life is neither good nor evil, but what I make it. And if you still press me to say why I love him, I can say no more than because he was he, and I am I.

Review by

Montaigne is known as the father of the essay for good reason--he coined the very word for them. An <i>essai</i> is french for attempt--which gives you a sense of Montaigne's style and intent. They're very conversational, as if he's thinking out loud. A little rambling, yes, in the way the conversation with a friend can be, jumping from subject to subject. Some reviewers complained he's vain--well, he is a bit of a know-it-all, including a great deal of quotes from classical sources: Homer, Aesop, Euripides, Plato, Aristotle, Vergil, Caesar, Lucretius, Tacitus, Plutarch... For me that was part of his charm. I'm with the Librarything reviewer who said that "this is a liberal education in a book." There seems to be no aspect of life he doesn't cover in his hundred plus essays. Montaigne actually struck me as both humane and strikingly modern in quite a few respects--in his concern for native Americans being colonized by the Europeans, his opposition to torture, his concern for animals, among other instances. I found Montaigne lively, often funny, readable, quotable. More so than his imitator Francis Bacon and far, far more so than Emerson. All three, interestingly, have essays on friendship. Montaigne's is the wisest and most moving of the three.

Review by

It's by my bed on the bedside cabinet. that should indicate to all of you how much of a loved vade mecum this work is. Unparalled.

Review by

In essence a late 16th diary of an aristocrat in a France torn by religious wars. It was mostly focused on his thoughts and his opinions in th elater years of his life as he observed his own aging. There were only hints at the chaos around his estates. Incredibly well read on the Roman and Greek Classics which served as his philosophical fodder as he thought about his life and his times in France. No one today could be so intimate with these Classic writing. It is what an educated individual was weaned on. After reading all 1269 pages I understand how his thinking eventually became part of the Enlightenment.

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