How to Live : A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, Paperback Book

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

4.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


How to get on well with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love?

How to live? This question obsessed Renaissance nobleman Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-92), who wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before.

Into these essays he put whatever was in his head: his tastes in wine and food, his childhood memories, the way his dog's ears twitched when it was dreaming, events in the appalling civil wars raging around him.

The Essays was an instant bestseller, and over four hundred years later, readers still come to him in search of companionship, wisdom and entertainment - and in search of themselves.

This first full biography of Montaigne in English for nearly fifty years relates the story of his life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400 pages, 12 Illustrations, unspecified
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Biography: literary
  • ISBN: 9780099485155

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Bordeaux' world heritage is wine and philosophers. Writing a biography of Montaigne is quite the challenge: His essays, after all, describe most aspects of his inner and outer life in minute detail (from his lament about his too small penis to the ideas of Brazilian indians on a tourist trip to 16th century France). Sarah Bakewell's biography in an elegant parallel structure does not try to surpass the reading of the essays themselves. Her biography is both an introduction to Montaigne's philosophy and an account of his life, with a clear focus on his work.The multitudes of Montaigne are what makes a guide handy. Her short account of stoic, epicurean and pyrrhonic ideas helps to bridge the gap of centuries. On the historical aspects, she doesn't do quite as well. The puzzle how Montaigne managed to stay outside the fierce religious wars is not revealed. While the French Catholics and Protestants slaughtered each other, Montaigne in was writing his essays in his domain. I can't quite understand how he managed to keep his stoic, pyrrhonic detachment in the face of the brutality of these historic events, probably best told in Conrad Ferdinand Meyer's ballad "Die Füße im Feuer" (Feet in the Fire).Overall, a magnificent introduction to one of mankind's best minds.

Review by

The author goes beyond a De Botton-ish summary of Montaigne’s philosophy by interweaving this with his life and his “afterlife”: the three strands run consecutively, not concurrently, a slightly postmodern device you wish more biographers used. Very approachable and and quirkily written.