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About the book
  • Published: 1 March 2011
  • ISBN: 9780099485155
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $29.99

How to Live

A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer

Brilliant, original, funny and moving – a vivid portrait of Montaigne, showing how his ideas gave birth to our modern sense of our inner selves, from Shakespeare’s plays to the dilemmas we face today.

How do you avoid being drawn into pointless arguments with a partner or colleague? / How do you deal with fanatics? / How do you balance the need to feel safe against the need to feel free? / What is the wisest way to behave if you are mugged, or assaulted, or held to ransom? / How do you reassure a gullible friend who thinks a witch has cast a spell on him? / How do you get over the death of someone you love? / How do you make the most of every moment, so that life does not slip away from you unnoticed and unappreciated?

Questions like this – some small, others vast and barely answerable – arise in most people's lives (apart from the witch). All are variations on one great question: how do you live well?How do you do the right thing whatever life throws at you? We all face the ‘how to live’ question in our own way, butthe idea that looking inwards, examining one’s own life, can create a mirror for others, was not always obvious.It was invented by a nobleman and wine-grower in sixteenth-century France from 1533 to 1592: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.

Montaigne wrote whatever was in his head, capturing fleeting states of mind, pondering on the current conflicts over religion, intolerance and cruelty but also on what to eat and drink, his cat’s bird-hunting, the way his dog’s ears twitch when he dreams, his family quarrels, the tribulations of his friends. He called his writings essays, or “tries”, experiments upon himself.His book was an instant bestseller, and has remained so ever since - it is arguably the founding text of modernity. And even today as throughout the centuries, people who pick up his book cry out: ‘Me too!’, ‘He’s so modern!’ and ‘How did he know all that about me?’ In keeping with his free-roaming approach, Montaigne: How to Live is an adventurous, richly textured biography which tells the story of his life through his own questions and answers – and in doing so, it helps us answer his great question for ourselves.

  • Pub date: 1 March 2011
  • ISBN: 9780099485155
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $29.99

About the Author

Sarah Bakewell

Sarah Bakewell had a wandering childhood in Europe, Australia and England. After studying at the University of Essex, she wrote fiction and worked in bookshops before becoming Curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Institute Library for the History of Medicine in London. She curated an exhibition with Marina Warner for the Science Museum and catalogues rare book collections for the National Trust. She is the author of The Smart;The English Dane: From King of Iceland to Tasmanian Convict, and the bestselling biography How to Live: A life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer. www.sarahbakewell.com

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Praise for How to Live

“With this splendidly conceived and exquisitely written double biography - of both Montaigne the man and Montaigne the book - Sarah Bakewell should persuade another generation to fall in love with Montaigne”

Sunday Times

“How to live is a superb, spirited introduction to the master, and should have its readers rushing straight to the essays themselves.”

Adam Thorpe, Guardian

“Illuminating and humane book... It's rare to come across a biographer who remains so deliciously fond of her subject...How to Live will delight and illuminate”


“Sarah Bakewell has written a marvellously confident and clear introduction to Montaigne ... a rare achievement. Sarah Bakewell deserves congratulations for opening Montaigne to new readers so very appealingly.”

Evening Standard

“A bright, engaging book that can only enthuse you to read the essays themselves ... Try it and you will make a new, most intimate friend”

Daily Mail

“Bakewell writes with verve. This is an intellectually lively treatment of a Renaissance giant and his world”

Daily Telegraph

“This welding together of biography and self-help mirrors exactly the project of Montaigne's Essays”

Financial Times

“This lively biography is so well adapted to Montaigne's sensibility that it succeeds in reviving him for our times”

The Times

“Lucidly written, vividly detailed ... her fluid structure beautifully reflects the freeform nature of Montaigne's candid meditations on his daily life”


“Sarah Bakewell has written an entertaining and well-researched book...She clearly loves Montaigne”


“A lively, well researched account of the man”

Literary Review

“Sprightly... It is ultimately his [Montaigne's] life-loving vivacity that she succeeds in communicating to her readers”

Ruth Scurr, Observer

“Cleverly retells [Montaigne's] life.... She not only produces a portrait of a charming, humane man, but she conjures up 16th century France in all its tumultuous glory”

Waterstone's Books Quarterly

“Bakewell reminds us how fascinating and shockingly original were Montaigne's meditations”

The Week

“Written with intelligence and an impressive lightness of touch”


“The most enjoyable introduction to Montaigne in the English language”

Timothy Chesters, Times Literary Supplement

“Bakewell is one of Montaigne's latest fans, but her considerable achievement in this work is to organise and present him without being exhaustive or reductive. She relishes his anecdotes, yet her biography is solidly grounded in historical and philosophical terms. She echoes the author, often commenting in a chatty tone similar to his...She provides illuminating background material.”

Siofra Pierse, Irish Times

“This exquisitely written biography explores both Montaigne's life and his famous essays.”

The Sunday Times Summer Reading

“An instructive journey around Montaigne, exemplifying his charm and the universality of his appeal... Bakewell obviously enjoyed her time with Montaigne...Her enjoyment is sure to lead many readers to Montaigne's text, if they do not already know it. And those who do are certain to appreciate Bakewell's own empathy and eloquence.”

AC Grayling, Prospect

“A jewel of a book and a perfect introduction to the great renaissance writer.”

Orlando Figes, Daily Telegraph, Christmas round up

“It is the best biography of the year”

The Times, Christmas round up

“How To Live will delight and illuminate”

Boyd Tonkin, Independent, Christmas round up

“Bakewell voyages round and through him in a delightful, unorthodox book that had me going back to the essays themselves.”

Andrew Marr, Financial Times, Christmas round up

“Rightly deserves its place on the Costa shortlist.It blurs lines between philosophy, biography and even self-help on occasions, something Montaigne may well have approved of.Bakewell is present as a witty interlocuter between 16th-century France and the modern day”

Joy Lo Dico, Independent on Sunday, Christmas round up

“This much acclaimed life of Montaigne reminds us that the great essayist's wisdom is as relevant to us now a sit was to those who first read him in the 16th century. ... The sense of wonder - wonder at the behaviour of animals as well as the peccadilloes of humans - is there all the time, and in his hands it's certainly catching”

Nicholas Bagnall, Daily Telegraph

“An exquisitely written biography”

Sunday Times, Summer Reading

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