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How to Live

A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

By Sarah Bakewell

(11)

| Paperback | 9780099485155

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Book Description

How to get on well with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love? How to live? This question obsessed Renaissance nobleman Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-92), who wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and Continue

How to get on well with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love? How to live? This question obsessed Renaissance nobleman Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-92), who wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. Into these essays 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, events in the appalling civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant bestseller, and over four hundred years later, readers still come to him in search of companionship, wisdom and entertainment - and in search of themselves. This first full biography of Montaigne in English for nearly fifty years relates the story of his life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored.

6 Reviews

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  • 1 person finds this helpful

    Ognuno legge in Montaigne se stesso e Sarah Bakewell ci legge una vecchia.

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    KawaiiLenin said on Apr 25, 2013 | Add your feedback

  • 1 person finds this helpful

    In one of the logs that I use to note and review books there are "tags". These tags are words and terms used to describe the book, e.g. "analysis", "philosophy" and "war". I've I have never attributed a book so many tags as I have used here, and I'm ...(continue)

    In one of the logs that I use to note and review books there are "tags". These tags are words and terms used to describe the book, e.g. "analysis", "philosophy" and "war". I've I have never attributed a book so many tags as I have used here, and I'm not exaggerating a single thing.

    This book is about Michel de Montaigne, a sixteenth-century nobleman who wrote down his thoughts and ideas in ways that very few other people had done so far. This book provides a somewhat chronological walk through the life of Montaigne, while issuing 20 attempts to twist the question "How to live?" as seen through his ways and eyes, and while being fairly complex, it's extremely simple to read. And I think a huge portion of why it's so accessible and laudable, is because it's unique and understandable:

    From page 293 in the book, where Bakewell describes how Marie de Gournay felt when she discovered Montaigne's "Essays":

    Some time in her late teens, apparently by chance, she came across an edition of the Essays. The experience was so shattering that her mother thought she had gone mad: she was on the point of giving the girl hellebore, a traditional treatment for insanity - or so Gournay herself says, perhaps exaggerating for effect. Gournay felt she had found her other self in Montaigne, the one person with whom she had a true affinity, and the only one to understand her. It was the experience so many of his readers have had over the years:

    How did he know all that about me? (Bernard Levin)

    It seems he is my very self. (André Gide)

    Here is a 'you' in which my 'I' is reflected; here is where all distance is abolished. (Stefan Zweig)

    Time and time again, Montaigne struck me as quite marvellous, simply because of his reasoning; he maintained that everything should be experienced with fresh eyes no matter how many times it has been seen before. And also, he believed that everything should be questioned. Yes, everything, but with a purpose.

    As Virginia Woolf was, according to Bakewell, prone to quote, this is a line from Montaigne's last essay:

    Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself.

    In his writing about everything, his examinations of everything, people who read his gigantic work - which I have yet not read - seem to love and critique it, simply because Montaigne continually examined his own flaws, errors and problems - and he stirs, and quickly traipsing from one subject to another in his writing, by following a trail of thought - not because he's trying to be difficult, but rather because he is human; I believe he was truly trying to discover what being human was about, and I think that's why people love his writing, not to forget his fantastic, amazing and provoking reason. All of this is superbly put into historical context by Bakewell; when Montaigne questions that he could have been killed for, it's clear to see that he meant what he said and did (also, while being flawed enough to go against himself at times; what the hell, he was human and knew it).

    Another quote from this book:

    But Montaigne offers more than an incitement to self-indulgence. The twenty-first century has everything to gain from a Montaignean sense of life, and, in its most troubled moments so far, it has been sorely in need of a Montaignean politics. It could use his sense of moderation, his love of sociability and courtesy, his suspension of judgement, and his subtle understanding of the psychological mechanisms involved in confrontation and conflict. It needs his conviction that no vision of heaven, no imagined Apocalypse, and no perfectionist fantasy can ever outweigh the tiniest of selves in the real world. It is unthinkable to Montaigne that one could ever 'gratify heaven and nature by committing massacre and homicide, a belief universally embraced in all religions.' To believe that life could demand any such thing is to forget what day-to-day existence actually is. It entails forgetting that, when you look at a puppy held over a bucket of water, or even at a cat in the mood for play, you are looking at a creature that looks back at you. No abstract principles are involved; there are only two individuals, face to face, hoping for the best from one another.

    Perhaps some of the credit for Montaigne's last answer should therefore go to his cat - a specific sixteenth-century individual, who had a rather pleasant life on a country estate with a doting master and not too much competition for his attention. She was the one who, by wanting to play with Montaigne at an inconvenient moment, reminded him what it was to be alive. They looked at each other, and, just for a moment, he leaped across the gap in order to see himself through her eyes. Out of that moment - and countless others like it - came his whole philosophy.

    This book is radiant, a marvellous excursion for a Montaigne neophyte like myself, and I recommend this to everybody.

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    Niklas Pivic said on Mar 22, 2013 | Add your feedback

  • 1 person finds this helpful

    in 20 capitoli i nuclei della poetica di Montaigne

    Ricordo che la prima volta che provai a leggere i Saggi di Montaigne li trovai difficili da comprendere e nonostante qualche riflessione incontrasse la mia sensibilità, la maggioranza aveva bisogno di un lavoro di contestualizzazione raffinato e comp ...(continue)

    Ricordo che la prima volta che provai a leggere i Saggi di Montaigne li trovai difficili da comprendere e nonostante qualche riflessione incontrasse la mia sensibilità, la maggioranza aveva bisogno di un lavoro di contestualizzazione raffinato e complesso per essere messa a fuoco. L’autrice che ha indagato la vita e la poetica di Montaigne per 5 anni, dopo essersi imbattuta per caso nei Saggi ed esserne rimasta sedotta, è molto brava a farci sembrare semplici da comprendere delle riflessioni che non sono semplici per nulla! Così, come se stesse parlando di un suo amico d’infanzia, Sarah Bakewell riesce a sintetizzare in modo molto efficace la poetica dell’autore in venti massime che sono i titoli dei capitoli in cui si articola il suo libro che è non solo una biografia di Montaigne, ma anche una storia delle successive edizioni dei suoi Saggi.
    Questi i capitoli: 1) Don’t warry about death; 2)Pay attention; 3) Be born Micheau; 4) Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted; 5)Survive love and loss; 6) Use little tricks; 7) Question everything; 8) Keep a private room behind the shop; 9) Be convivial:live with others; 10) Wake from the sleep of habit; 11) Live temperately; 12) Guard your humanity; 13) Do something no one has done before; 14) See the world; 15) Do a good job but not too good a job; 16) Philosophise only by accident; 17) Reflect on everything; regret nothing; 18) Give up control; 19) Be ordinary and imperfect; 20) Let life be its own answer.
    Sarah Bakewell ci aiuta a immergerci completamente nella filosofia classica e nella concezione che essa aveva dell’uomo e a capire così Montaigne. L’uomo per i greci era un essere mortale che non sperava in una vita oltre la morte e aveva come unico scopo quello che si dava vivendo; un’amanità che pensava che la felicità fosse lo scopo della vita e che essa consistesse nell’esercizio della moderazione e nella realizzazione di se stessi nel rispetto di tutto il resto, animali e vegetali compresi. L’autrice ci aiuta a riflettere sul fatto che Montaigne inventò di sana pianta quel suo modo originale appunto, di mettere per iscritto le sue riflessioni contraddittorie sulla vita partendo dalle sue esperinze personali e senza avere alcun pudore di ordine morale o intellettuale a mettersi a nudo. Bene, la genialità dell’autore consiste nel fatto che è stato così bravo ad arrivare all’essenza dell’umanità che nei secoli chi lo ha letto non ha fatto altro che meravigliarsi di come Montaigne sia riuscito a leggergli dentro! Quando si dice che l’arte vera è sempre contemporanea si fa riferimento a situazioni come queste in cui un libro del XVI secolo è di fatto stato capace di coinvolgere i lettori di tutti i tempi! Vengono messe in luce anche le ragioni per le quali i Saggi sono stati inseriti nell’Indice dei Libri Proibiti della Chiesa Cattolica per secoli. La loro principale eterodossia era rappresentata dal fatto che per Montaigne gli animali erano assimilati all’uomo anziché subordinati alla sua volontà, messi al suo servizio da dio per contribuire alla realizzazione del suo disegno. Insomma, in qualche modo Montaigne pensava che gli animali avessero pari dignità degli uomini e questo collideva con la cultura della Chiesa Cattolica che concepiva e concepisce tuttora l’uomo al centro e padrone dell’Universo.

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    Maria Rita Biagini said on Jul 30, 2012 | Add your feedback

  • 1 person finds this helpful

    Le recensioni di questo libro mi avevano convinto che anche per una che non ama la non-fiction questa sarebbe stata una lettura interessante e ricca di stimoli e così è stato. Devo dire che trovo anche molto bello l'impianto strutturale del libro (ov ...(continue)

    Le recensioni di questo libro mi avevano convinto che anche per una che non ama la non-fiction questa sarebbe stata una lettura interessante e ricca di stimoli e così è stato. Devo dire che trovo anche molto bello l'impianto strutturale del libro (ovvero le 20 risposte alla stessa domanda "come vivere") perché in qualche modo sembra interpretare lo spirito stesso della scrittura e della vita di Montaigne. Ovviamente è molto difficile tirare la linea tra ciò che veramente appartiene a Montaigne e ciò che appartiene alla modalità dell'autrice di raccontarlo, ma in ogni caso il risultato è molto bello, molto leggibile, molto pieno di stimoli e di voglia di leggere ancora.

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    Widepeak said on Nov 3, 2011 | Add your feedback

  • 1 person finds this helpful

    What I didn't like a bit was the fact that the author wanted to speak for Montaigne: "I will tell you what Montaigne would have answered to the following 20 questions, should he had been alive" I mean: what? are you telling me that you got kind of ex ...(continue)

    What I didn't like a bit was the fact that the author wanted to speak for Montaigne: "I will tell you what Montaigne would have answered to the following 20 questions, should he had been alive" I mean: what? are you telling me that you got kind of extrasensory communication with the spirit of Montaigne or what? Besides, the answers are quite obvious and I found really little new or interesting. Sorry if I am being harsh.

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    ariadna73 said on Apr 11, 2011 | Add your feedback

  • 1 person finds this helpful

    Pretentious and overstated

    Although I found the book a little bit over-rated, I enjoyed some of the twenty advices to live a good life, such as paying close attention to details, be aware, not to be afraid of uncontrolled things, etc. The problem with this book is that it anno ...(continue)

    Although I found the book a little bit over-rated, I enjoyed some of the twenty advices to live a good life, such as paying close attention to details, be aware, not to be afraid of uncontrolled things, etc. The problem with this book is that it announces that it is going to respond to twenty questions of life with the words that Montaigne would have used if he were alive, and I found that statement really unbelievable.

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    ariadna73 said on Mar 24, 2011 | Add your feedback

Book Details

  • Rating:
    (11)
    • 5 stars
    • 4 stars
  • English Books
  • Paperback 400 Pages
  • ISBN-10: 009948515X
  • ISBN-13: 9780099485155
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Publish date: 2011-01-06
  • Dimensions: 174 mm x 832 mm x 1,276 mm
  • Also available as: Hardcover , eBook
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