How To Live by Sarah Bakewell

How To Live by Sarah Bakewell is partly a biography of Montaigne, and partly a philosophical exploration on how to live based on Montaigne’s writings and his life. The question of ‘How to live?’ is answered in twenty different ways, all of which relate to themes that Montaigne explored infamous essays.

The answers range from ‘don’t worry about death, ‘read a lot, and forget most of what you read’, ‘question everything, to ‘give up control’, and ‘let life be its own answer’. Overall a really enjoyable book if you like practical philosophy or Montaigne’s style of self-exploration and writing.

How To Live by Sarah Bakewell
How to Live by Sarah Bakewell

Book Review

Sarah Bakewell’s book How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne, is exactly one such Guidebook. Part biography, part philosophy, the book covers the life and thoughts of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a 16th-century French nobleman who owned an estate in the Bordeaux region of France, and served in politics during the religious upheavals of the Reformation. He spent most of the second half of his life writing and editing a series of essays that were essentially a modern diary or blog post, capturing his thoughts on life as they occurred to him in real-time. Bakewell’s addition is to pull out the common themes that run throughout these essays, and structure them into a set of ideas that can serve as answers to the great question that there is never really a distinct answer for: How should we live our lives?

Montaigne presents a worldview and a way to live that is underrepresented in much of today’s public conversation. We are humans, and we are fallible. So be sceptical, but in the process don’t forget your humanity. To stand for nothing is to be nothing. Simply be open to the world around you, and suspend your inner desire towards instant judgement. This is only a fraction of what Montaigne has to teach us, but we all must start somewhere. I highly recommend that anyone who hasn’t already, start here.

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