National Book Critics Circle Award, Biography, 2011
This question obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, perhaps the first recognizably modern individual. A nobleman, public official, and winegrower, he wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. He called them essays, meaning “attempts” or “tries.” He put whatever was in his head into them: his tastes in wine and food, his childhood memories, the way his dog’s ears twitched when it was dreaming, as well as the appalling events of the religious civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant best seller and, over four hundred years later, Montaigne’s honesty and charm still draw readers to him. They come in search of companionship, wisdom, and entertainment - and in search of themselves.This book, a spirited and singular biography, relates the story of Montaigne’s life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored. It traces his bizarre upbringing, his youthful career and sexual adventures, his travels, and his friendships with the scholar and poet Étienne de La Boétie and with his adopted “daughter,” Marie de Gournay. And we also meet his readers - who for centuries have found in Montaigne an inexhaustible source of answers to the haunting question, “How to live?”
©2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc. (P)2010 Sarah Bakewell
“Lively and fascinating . . . How to Live takes its place as the most enjoyable introduction to Montaigne in the English language.” (Times Literary Supplement)
“Splendidly conceived and exquisitely written . . . enormously absorbing.” (Sunday Times)
“[Bakewell reveals] one of literature’s enduring figures as an idiosyncratic, humane, and surprisingly modern force.” (Publishers Weekly)
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
An interesting and in parts inspired take on Montaigne's essays, life, and times. I liked the Montaigne-inspired structure and the book's many insights, but alas, it still just wasn't Montaigne. I think this would be a good introduction to someone before reading Essays and for me was a good re-visit after I read (it gave me a lot of information about the region and people Montaigne dealt with consistently). But please people, don't read/listen to this to better understand Montaigne, there is a whole book he wrote that helps with that. So, use this book for pre/post Montaigne, but avoid using it as a replacement. Narration was appropriate for book.
I looked forward to this release from the time this book was first published in 2010. From the reviews I read, I assumed it would be a series of reflections that would draw from both Montaigne's life and his essays. And on the surface, it is. Each chapter takes a theme ("Observe closely") and quotes examples of Montaigne considering or engaging in it. But the bulk of the book is really a straight account of his life, chopped into 20 chapters, that moves steadily from youth to death and often goes into more details about 16th century French religious and political disputes than most listeners are likely to be interested in. Davina Porter is an engaging reader, and there are some memorable passages, but the text often drags. I was hoping for a 4-5 star listen, but for me it was just average.
all the praise for the book and narration are well deserved
it is much more than a simple review or sample of " the essays "
the book's unique benefit comes from a sly and deeper approach
sarah bakewell tries to answer the question of how to live
to do this she shows us just how michel de montaigne lived
how could 1500's france have given rise to such a modern soul ?
a world of endless religious & political turmoil / concern about a plague
the burden of inherited comfort and position and expectations
a loveless marriage / the death of one's only true male friend
life was clearly too much for montaigne and he retreated
he feared losing his own soul and the essays were his attempt to find it
hello ! / any of this sound familiar to a modern reader ?
how can we find serenity in a world beyond our control ?
can courage and wisdom be found to know where we can make a difference ?
sarah bakewell reaches back 500 years for a very good answer
The enthusiastic critical reception of this book is entirely justified, and the audio version is fine. When you're finished, listen to Alain de Botton's highly entertaining book on several of the philosophers who inspired Montaigne, "The Consolations of Philosophy."
This is a great lead-in to the "Essays" themselves. Or, perhaps, it is all you will need of Montaigne, though I doubt it. You can get the full version of the essays on audio now, too.
Even when going into some acrane bits of French history, the author manages to tie it all back to Montaigne, and, usually, to also draw from it important historical lessons.
The author wonderfully mingles biography, literature and history into a tale that is instructive and fun to listen to.
Lastly, the narrator was perfect, British sounding, intellectual, but also able to toss of a little sneer when required (usually in the direction of a Montaigne detractor), or to let humor tinge her voice when refelecting on some of the wackier things our fair essayist put the pen to.
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