Michel de Montaigne was one of the most influential figures of the Renaissance, singlehandedly responsible for popularising the essay as a literary form.
In 1572, Montaigne retired to his estates in order to devote himself to leisure, reading and reflection. There he wrote his constantly expanding 'essays', inspired by the ideas he found in books from his library and 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. Above all, Montaigne studied himself to find his own inner nature and that of humanity. The Essays are among the most idiosyncratic and personal works in all literature. An insight into a wise Renaissance mind, they continue to engage, enlighten and entertain modern readers.
Born in 1533, Michel de Montaigne studied law and spent a number of years working as a counsellor before devoting his life to reading, writing and reflection. He died in 1586.
Dr M.A. Screech is regarded as the world's greatest authority on Montaigne.
How do you avoid pointless arguments? How do you get over the death of someone you love? How do you balance the need to feel safe against the need to feel free? How do you deal with fanatics? How do you make the most of every moment?
Such questions arise in most people’s lives. They are all versions of a bigger conundrum: How do you live? This subject obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, considered by many to be the first truly modern author.
Living from 1533 to 1592, in a France dominated by bloody and miserable civil war, he maintained as private a life as possible while writing 107 lively, revealing pieces which he called essais, or “tries” – a term he was the first to use in this way. He meant them not as pedantic treatises, but as attempts or experiments upon himself. Here are some of his titles:
By diverse means we arrive at the same end.
Our feelings reach out beyond us.
Of the custom of wearing clothes.
How we cry and laugh for the same thing.
How our mind hinders itself.
Montaigne’s essays are free-roaming explorations of his thoughts and experience, filled with anecdotes and personal reflections. More than four hundred years later, his honesty and charm still draw readers to him in search of companionship and wisdom – as well as sheer enjoyment.
How To Live takes an unconventional approach to telling Montaigne’s life, through the questions he asked himself, and the very different ways in which readers have adapted his perspective over the years.
It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography in the U.S. and the Duff Cooper Prize for Non-Fiction in the U.K., and was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award and the Marsh Biography Award.
U.K.: Chatto & WIndus, 2010. Vintage paperback, 2011.
U.S.: Other Press 2011, paperback 2012.
Available at your local bookshop, or via Amazon (U.K here and U.S. here). And I like the Guardian Bookshop (U.K), here.
Also available as a Kindle e-book (U.K. here, U.S. here), and audiobook (U.K. here, U.S. here).
Chinese (Complex) (Business Weekly Publications, Taiwan) – follow this link.
Dutch: Hoe te leven: een leven van Montaigne. Van Gennep, 2012.
French: Comment vivre? Une vie de Montaigne, Albin Michel, 2013; Livre de Poche, 2014.
German: Wie soll ich leben? oder das Leben Montaignes C.H. Beck, 2012.
Italian: Montaigne: l’arte di vivere , Fazi Editore, 2011.
Portuguese (Brazil): Como viver: ou Uma biografia de Montaigne … Editora Objetiva, 2012.
Slovenian: Kako živeti? Življenje Michela de Montaigna …Janez Penca, 2013.
Spanish: Como vivir: una vida con Montaigne Ariel, 2011.
Turkish: Nasıl Yaşanır ya da Bir Soruda Montaigne’in Hayatı Domingo, 2013.
Other translations are also available or forthcoming in Chinese (Simplified/Mainland), Czech, Finnish and Korean.
“A superb book, original, engaging, thorough, ambitious, and wise. … I’d be surprised if I read a richer book in the next twelve months.” Nick Hornby, The Believer.
“A brilliant and unconventional biography. … A sophisticated mini-history of philosophy, but it reads like a late-night talk with a friend.” Kathryn Schulz, Boston Globe.
“It is hard to imagine a better introduction – or reintroduction- to Montaigne.” Lorin Stein, Harper’s.
“Splendidly conceived and exquisitely written … enormously absorbing.” James McConnachie, The Sunday Times
“A superb, spirited introduction to the master.” Adam Thorpe, The Guardian
The movie version:
The audio version (talking to Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds of Philosophy Bites):