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

Sarah Bakewell, Other Press (Random, dist.), $25 (400p) ISBN 978-1-59051-425-0
Bakewell's biography of Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), the French nobleman and father of the exploratory, free-floating essay, departs from chronology to present his life through questions and answers ("How to Live? Don't Worry About Death" and "Be Convivial: Live with Others") that consider "the man and writer" as well as the "long party"—the "accumulation of shared and private conversation over four hundred years." The author, a British book curator and cataloguer, begins with Montaigne's near-death after a fall from a horse, then traces back to his Latin education, his years in public service, his friendship with Étienne de La Boétie, his exploration of Hellenic philosophies, and his topics that would resonate with later Renaissance scholars and general readers alike. Bakewell (The Smart) enlivens Montaigne's hometown, 16th-century Bordeaux, with a wit that conveys genuine enchantment with her subject. Montaigne preferred biographers who tried to "reconstruct a person's inner world from the evidence." Bakewell honors that perspective by closely examining his writings as well as the context in which they were created, revealing one of literature's enduring figures as an idiosyncratic, humane, and surprisingly modern force. Illus. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/19/2010
Release date: 00/00/0000
Genre: Nonfiction
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