My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was inexplicably drawn to this book in Barnes and Noble, Union Square, New York. I’d never read anything about Montaigne before, before I have to admit that I am overly receptive to pretty covers, and attractive bindings. This is a lovely soft-covered book that is a joy to hold, and that probably got me to open the cover and look inside.
Flicking through the pages, and deciding whether to invest in this book or not, I was drawn to the personable text and containing nature of the narrative. I’m currently venturing into reading factual books in the humanities for the first time (I have a medical and science background and for many years have read on technical books and crime thrillers). Previously I’ve given up on books after just a few paragraphs, but with this one I felt like I could at least make it through several chapters.
I wasn’t sure whether this was a biography, an academic work or a pseudo-novel about Montaigne. And I’m still not sure. I think that what it says on the back “An inventive exploration” is probably right. It is an appreciation of Montaigne’s work, seated culturally and historically in the context of his life. It is a great introduction to Montaigne, but it does reference a lot of classic philosophy, and if, like me, you’re not one for knowing all that stuff – you might find that a bit daunting. However, if you can just go with it, you will enjoy this book and feel like you’ve had a glimpse of several other worlds along the way.
I’m now reading the Sarah Bakewell Montaigne appreciation – and I’m not sure if I would have preferred to read that first – it is certainly a more gentle and generous introduction to the ancients, whereas this is quite unapologetic in it’s name-dropping and referencing.
However, this book must be a success. I bought it, I read and enjoyed it, and I’ve gone in search of more about Montaigne, including reading his actual essays.
This has been a lovely introduction to the vast realm of the humanities, and it is accessible without being patronising or ‘basic’. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a good story, some great history, a glimpse into philosophy or to find out about Montaigne himself.