How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

Front Cover
Other Press, LLC, Oct 19, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 400 pages
20 Reviews
Winner of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography

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? How do you do the good or honorable thing, while flourishing and feeling happy?

This question obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Monatigne, perhaps the first truly modern individual. A nobleman, public official and wine-grower, he wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. He called them “essays,” meaning “attempts” or “tries.” Into them, 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, as well as the appalling events of the religious civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant bestseller and, over four hundred years later, Montaigne’s honesty and charm still draw people to him. Readers come in search of companionship, wisdom and entertainment—and in search of themselves.

This book, a spirited and singular biography, relates the story of his life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored. It traces his bizarre upbringing, youthful career and sexual adventures, his travels, and his friendships with the scholar and poet Étienne de La Boétie and with his adopted “daughter,” Marie de Gournay. And we also meet his readers—who for centuries have found in Montaigne an inexhaustible source of answers to the haunting question, “how to live?”

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dbsovereign - LibraryThing

Montaigne was a man before his time. He was a truly enlightened man with renaissance sensibilities and a voracious appetite for philosophizing and conversation. Ultimately, he was also a sort of ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - KirkLowery - LibraryThing

Apparently, Montaigne is hard to write about, because he is hard to read. I don't know how to evaluate Bakewell's success or lack of it in her book. It is certainly as meandering as Montaigne. Somehow ... Read full review


O How to live?
O How to live? A Pay attention
Q How to live? A Be born
O How to live? A Read a lot forget most of what you read
Q How to live? A Survive love and loss
Use little tricks
Q How to live? A Question everything
Q How to live? A Keep a private room behind the shop
O How to live? A Guard your humanity
Q How to live? A DoSomething no one has done before
Travels 227
O How to live? A Do a good job but not too good a
Q How to live? A Philosophize only by accident
Q How to live? A Give up control
O How to live? A Be ordinary and imperfect
Acknowledgments 329

live with others
O How to live? A Wakefrom the sleep of habit
Q How to live? A Live temperately
Sources 367
List of ustrations 373

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2010)

About this Author...

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 and catalogues rare book collections for the National Trust.

Bibliographic information