From the back of the book : The Smart is a true drama of eighteenth century life with a mercurial, mysterious heroine. Caroline is a young Irish woman who runs off to marry a soldier, comes to London and slides into a glamorous life as high-class prostitute, a great risk-taker, possessing a mesmerising appeal.
This is also a history of the epoch in which Caroline's life takes place. She is involved in the most scandalous financial sting of the age and becomes notorious because of it. Her fellow conspirators (both men and identical twins) are sentenced to hang but Caroline walks free - the author is certain that this is because Caroline is exceptionally clever and knows how to use her allure with the all male jury.
It's a great book, fascinating from start to finish even although none of the names involved are remotely familiar in this day and age.
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.