How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer

Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live – A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer was published in 2010. Your correspondent had read several parts of the book back then (its construction allows for some degree of such dipping but one loses the biographical thread of Montaigne’s life when one reads the book in this way) but undertook to read it fully over the holidays.

Given that the English language version of Michel de Montaigne’s Complete Essays (by Donald M. Frame) runs to some 1,000 pages, that Bakewell has condensed the gist of Montaigne’s thinking and his biography into 300 (well-written) pages makes her book a good point of entry to the observations and musings of Montaigne. As presented by Bakewell — 20 attempts at answers to the question on Montaigne’s mind — the book is about as interesting and entertaining a book I have read in some time, combining some of the major events in France in the period in which Montaigne lived (1533 – 1592) but also to present his ideas in ways a present-day reader can both relate to and profit by.

Rather than read a self-help, self-improvement book — on how to organize oneself to be more productive, more innovative, or more entrepreneurial, for example — or yet another business book on leadership, culture change, influence, engagement etcetera, I suggest reading Bakewell’s book instead; it may provide perspectives, ideas and suggestions for actions and tactics that could be more useful than reading yet more contemporary material.

I, for one, found it lively, entertaining and thought-provoking (but again, I am not an expert in such matters so please take with a grain of salt).

How to live