How to Live by Sarah Bakewell
Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

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Synopsis

Winner of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography

How to get along with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love—such questions arise in most people’s lives. They are all versions of a bigger question: how do you live? How do you do the good or honorable thing, while flourishing and feeling happy?

This question obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Monatigne, perhaps the first truly modern individual. A nobleman, public official and wine-grower, he wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. He called them “essays,” meaning “attempts” or “tries.” Into them, 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, as well as the appalling events of the religious civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant bestseller and, over four hundred years later, Montaigne’s honesty and charm still draw people to him. Readers come in search of companionship, wisdom and entertainment—and in search of themselves.

This book, a spirited and singular biography, relates the story of his life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored. It traces his bizarre upbringing, 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?”
 

About Sarah Bakewell

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Sarah Bakewell was a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library before becoming a full-time writer, publishing her highly acclaimed biographies The Smart and The English Dane. She lives in London, where she teaches creative writing at City University and catalogues rare book collections for the National Trust.
 
Published October 19, 2010 by Other Press. 401 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Literature & Fiction, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for How to Live

Kirkus Reviews

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The author notes that Montaigne is particularly appropriate in our time, “[a century] full of people who are full of themselves.” He was a revolutionary writer, the founding father of the personal essay and the man who realized that his own life could serve as a mirror for others.

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The Guardian

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How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell Buy it from the Guardian bookshop Search the Guardian bookshop A...

Jan 16 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

The Guardian

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The result, as the TLS reviewer put it, "is the most enjoyable introduction to Montaigne in the English language" (if I may digress in Montaignian fashion: why don't publicity departments put quotes like that from the TLS on the back of books when they earn them?

Jan 08 2011 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

Examiner

Sarah Bakewell, a curator-turned-writer, took the life of Montaigne and his teachings and mixed them into a book that everyone should own: How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, which was published by Other Press.

May 23 2011 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

The Telegraph

How to Live offers few concessions .

Jan 18 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

Open Letters Monthly

I can’t say that I’ve actually read the book from cover to cover—it’s more the sort of book to pick up and open at random, to read “On the power of the imagination,” “On the education of children,” “On cannibals,” “On the uncertainty of our judgment.”.

Nov 10 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Alain de Botton's charming book, The Consolations of Philosophy (which includes a chapter on Montaigne), has many self-referential gestures, but Bakewell suits up as a literary detective, searching out the mystery of Montaigne's impulse without any autobiographical vignettes (except in the acknow...

Nov 05 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

Independent.ie

The title suggests that you're about to read a self-help book and in a way that's what Sarah Bakewell provides for this age of diaries, blogs, memoirs and endless self-analysis -- an age, as she says, that is "full of people who are full of themselves, fascinated by their own personalities and sh...

Mar 20 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

MostlyFiction Book Reviews

But the book reads more like a streaming narration of an intelligent reader reading Montaigne, a sort of parallel reading experience.

Oct 20 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

Scotsman.com

Michel de Montaigne, the 16th-century French nobleman, was the first person to write an account of his thoughts in the first person.

Jan 14 2011 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

The New Yorker

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Nov 15 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

Metro

Before self-help books there was Montaigne, the French 16th-century philosopher who, in his famous book Essays, was arguably the first in the modern world to fully grapple with the vexing question of how to live.

Jan 19 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

California Literary Review

She maintains that the intellectual debt of Montaigne to La Boetie was great, though the fact that the latter is remembered at all today is due to Montaigne.

Nov 10 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

The Paris Review

When he was once compared to Montaigne Browne protested that he had ‘scarcely read two or three leaves of Montaigne and scarcely ever since’.

Nov 12 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

The Bookbag

Summary: Every bit as good as its quirky title suggests, Montaigne's ideas are still relevant half a millennium later.

Jan 07 2011 | Read Full Review of How to Live: Or A Life of Mon...

Reader Rating for How to Live
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