How to Live: A Life of Montaigne

By Sarah Bakewell.

This was an entertaining read which may encourage people to read Montaigne. It is, however, very different to other biographies I have read over the last few years. The most notable being Joseph Frank’s multiple volume biography of Dostoevsky which fuses his life with detailed literary criticism as Frank believes that they should not be separated. Compared with Frank, Mirsky’s Pushkin or Kelly’s Lermontov this seemed a little light. It was enjoyable but I didn’t really feel that I got to the substance of the Montaigne. Admittedly, part of the reason for this could be that the biographies I mentioned above were based on 19th century writers rather than a Montaigne of the 16th century with less biographical information available.

The stucture  was interesting, with each chapter’s theme being a question that could have been posed by Montaigne and the answer then given via biographical details with a nod to his writings. So, to sum up, worth reading and not too challenging. To get more flesh on the bones the reader will just have to read Montaigne.

Soundtrack: Calling Zero – ‘Lifetime for the Mavericks’.

 

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Flatland

By Edwin Abbott.

Thoroughly enjoyable. This  was wise, engaging, amusing and tremendously imaginative. It is a shame that this is the only work of its type that Abbott wrote. To understand Flatland is a real paradigm shift and to look at the worlds within the worlds described is an excellent philosophical and literary mechanism. There’s so much in this book. The edition that I read on the kindle also had some great illustrations that further elucidated the analysis given by ‘the square’ who narrates. I was reminded slightly of Swift (due to the satire and imaginative content) but the attack on social structures didn’t quite seem as strong as Gullivers Travels or even A Modest Proposal.

 

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