This is Sarah Bakewell's first book. It is indeed a life of Montaigne.
The book is split into twenty chapters each one an attempt to answer the one question (How To Live). Montaigne was a sixteenth century philosopher, although he would not have said so himself. As far as he was concerned he was just writing down and publishing his thoughts. What you might call blogging in the 1500's. The book cites Montaigne's influences as well as his life and is utterly fascinating.
The prose is lively and accessible and the research, as far as I can make out, is very well done. It's a fact based book, as you would expect, but it's not dry or boring. I learnt a great deal. Not least of which is that Scepticism is actually a branch of philosophy. That can be broken down further into three parts : Pyrrhonic Scepticism, founded by the Greek philosopher Phyrro in the fourth century BCE, Academic Scepticism and Mundane Scepticism. Bakewell didn't go into any detail about the differences but Scepticism is, as you would imagine, the questioning of the certainty of knowledge. It stuck in my mind because I thought that we Glaswegians would be very good at Mundane Scepticism (whatever that may be!).
I recommend this book, it's knowledgeable and accessible and very entertaining.
I have no idea why Sarah Bakewell chose such a ridiculously long title but there it is. This is actually a history of Existentialism.
This book is clear (and concise!) and very well written, split into chapters that tell of the development of Existentialism from it's beginnings and that which influenced it to the present day. Including those who influenced and helped to develop it. In so doing the book does provide an explanation of what Existentialism is which is easy to understand.
Along the way the author takes into account the first World War and the second World War and what both of those meant to the intellectuals and philosphers who practiced Existentialism. It's also very clear all throughout the text that the author is passionate about her subject.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is filled with facts but not dry and boring and it very much describes Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as people as well as philosophers and intellectuals and how they both were at the beating heart of this fascinating philosophy. It also describes how they both made a living.
I recommend this book, long title 'n all