Sarah Bakewell. How to Live: Or, a Life of Montaigne
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Back in the 1950’s the popular folk group The Weavers performed a song in which a man repeatedly comes home to apparently find another man in bed with his wife, only to have the wife explain the appearance away by telling him, for instance, that what he thought was a man’s head on the pillow was only a “melon” she had just received from her mother. Although the husband expresses some skepticism about how a melon could have a mustache, he ultimately accepts this explanation – along with each of the (highly dubious) others. At the end of the song the husband remarks, “Good thing I’m not of a suspicious nature!”
I thought of that song when reading Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live. The book, which builds its twenty chapters around a series of life “lessons” that Montaigne’s Essays(of which the first edition appeared in 1580) supposedly teaches, is engagingly written and nicely illustrated with a series of historical portraits, sketches, and documents, mostly dating from Montaigne’s time....