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


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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.

 

 

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I'm sure there's a thread on this somewhere! I was introduced to this about four years ago and I'm sure I've written about it. The search engine though doesn't even bring up her other book, At the Existentialist Café which there is certainly a thread on. Very strange.

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5 hours ago, Viccie said:

I'm sure there's a thread on this somewhere! I was introduced to this about four years ago and I'm sure I've written about it. The search engine though doesn't even bring up her other book, At the Existentialist Café which there is certainly a thread on. Very strange.

 

Maybe it got lost in one of the crashes?  I did do a search to find out where I'd put the Existentialist Café so that I could put them in the same section

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm about halfway through this, and for the most part I'm enjoying it. But I was a little disappointed that Bakewell ignores Cynicism as the fourth Pillar of Hellenistic thought. 

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Just to clarify; I realize than Montaigne didn't utilize Cynicism ( which,as a philosophy, is more about right way of living that it is about being cynical, as we currently use the word; however it was also about calling society on its excesses and irrational mores) in his philosophy. In fact it seems his writing is often the antithesis of exposing corruption, greed, and political pissing matches. But Bakewell acts like there were only 3 Pillars rather than 4. And Cynicism had great effect on the other 3, Stoicism in particular. 

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I have now finished How to Live by Sarah Bakewell and I'm glad I read this. I knew nothing about Montaigne's life, and only a few pithy aphorisms from his work. I found his ideas fascinating and compelling, especially his combination of Stoicism and Skepticism. The parts dealing with the religious civil wars (between Catholics and Protestants) which plagued France in the late 1500s was interesting and all new news to me. And it was particularly thought provoking to read about the various interpretations and usurpations of Montaigne's work. All in all a very good, well researched, and well written book. Thanks for the recommendation, Luna!

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11 hours ago, Dan said:

I have now finished How to Live by Sarah Bakewell and I'm glad I read this. I knew nothing about Montaigne's life, and only a few pithy aphorisms from his work. I found his ideas fascinating and compelling, especially his combination of Stoicism and Skepticism. The parts dealing with the religious civil wars (between Catholics and Protestants) which plagued France in the late 1500s was interesting and all new news to me. And it was particularly thought provoking to read about the various interpretations and usurpations of Montaigne's work. All in all a very good, well researched, and well written book. Thanks for the recommendation, Luna!

 

You are very welcome, Dan.  I'm glad that you liked it

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