How to Live

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 9/20/2011
  • Publisher: Other Press

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How to get along with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love-such questions arise in most people's lives. They are all versions of a bigger question: How do you live? This question obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, considered by many to be the first truly modern individual. He wrote free-roaming explorations of his thoughts and experience, unlike anything written before. More than four hundred years later, Montaigne's honesty and charm still draw people to him. Readers come to him in search of companionship, wisdom, and entertainment -and in search of themselves. Just as they will to this spirited and singular biography.

Author Biography

Sarah Bakewell was a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library before becoming a full-time writer, publishing her highly acclaimed biographies The Smart and The English Dane. She lives in London, where she teaches creative writing at City University.

Table of Contents

How to live? Michel de Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answerp. 1
How to live? A. Don't worry about death
Hanging by the tip of his lipsp. 12
How to live? A. Pay attention
Starting to writep. 23
Stream of consciousnessp. 33
How to live? A. Be born
Micheaup. 39
The experimentp. 51
How to live? A Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted
Readingp. 64
Montaigne the slow and forgetfulp. 69
The young Montaigne in troubled timesp. 74
How to live? A. Survive love and loss
La Boétie: love and tyrannyp. 90
La Boétie: death and mourningp. 102
How to live? A. Use little tricks
Little tricks and the art of livingp. 109
Montaigne in slaveryp. 118
How to live? A. Question everything
All I know is that I know nothing, and I'm not even sure about thatp. 123
Animals and demonsp. 133
A prodigious seduction machinep. 141
How to live? A. Keep a private room behind the shop
Going to it with only one buttockp. 154
Practical responsibilitiesp. 166
How to live? A. Be convivial; live with others
A gay and sociable wisdomp. 170
Openness, mercy, and crueltyp. 174
How to live? A. Wake from the sleep of habit
It all depends on your point of viewp. 182
Noble savagesp. 189
How to live? A. Live temperately
Raising and lowering the temperaturep. 195
How to live? A. Guard your humanity
Terrorp. 203
Herop. 215
How to live? A. Do something no one has done before
Baroque best sellerp. 222
How to live? A. See the world
Travelsp. 227
How to live? A. Do a good job, but not too good a job''
Mayorp. 245
Moral objectionsp. 252
Missions and assassinationsp. 258
How to live? A. Philosophize only by accident
Fifteen Englishmen and an Irishmanp. 274
How to live? A. Reflect on everything; regret nothing
Je ne regrette rienp. 286
How to live? A. Give up control
Daughter and disciplep. 291
The editing warsp. 303
Montaigne remixed and embaboonedp. 308
How to live? A. Be ordinary and imperfect
Be ordinaryp. 316
Be imperfectp. 318
How to live? A. Let life be its own answer
Not the endp. 321
Acknowledgmentsp. 331
Chronologyp. 333
Notesp. 337
Sourcesp. 369
List of Illustrationsp. 375
Indexp. 379
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


The riding accident, which so altered Montaigne’s perspective, lasted only a few moments in itself, but one can unfold it into three parts and spread it over several years. First, there is Montaigne lying on the ground, clawing at his stomach while experiencing euphoria. Then comes Montaigne in the weeks and months that followed, reflecting on the experience and trying to reconcile it with his philosophical reading. Finally, there is Montaigne a few years later, sitting down to write about it – and about a multitude of other things. The first scene could have happened to anyone; the second to any sensitive, educated young man of the Renaissance. The last makes Montaigne unique.
     The connection is not a simple one: he did not sit up in bed and immediately start writing about the accident. He began theEssaysa couple of years later, around 1572, and, even then, he wrote other chapters before coming to the one about losing consciousness. When he did turn to it, however, the experience made him try a new kind of writing, barely attempted by other writers: that of re-creating a sequence of sensations as they felt from the inside, following them from instant to instant.

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