How to Live | Sarah Bakewell

Summary of: How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer
By: Sarah Bakewell


Delve deep into the fascinating world of Michel de Montaigne, as explored in Sarah Bakewell’s ‘How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.’ Discover how Montaigne’s groundbreaking personal essays were born from his near-death experience, his philosophy, and his desire to find peace in post-retirement contemplation. This engaging summary navigates the development of Montaigne’s thoughts and traces the impact of his writing on future generations of philosophers, authors, and thinkers. Get ready to immerse yourself in Montaigne’s candid exploration of the human condition and experience by piecing together the intricate tapestry of his stream of consciousness.

Lessons from a Brush with Death

Montaigne, a French philosopher, survives a near-death experience after being accidentally run over by his servant’s horse. During this ordeal, he experiences a sense of calm and lightness, debunking his fear of death. Montaigne believes that our minds are wired to experience dying in a painless way, and we should not fear it. He suggests we should apply this same feeling of lightness to our daily lives, especially during difficult moments, reminding us not to take life too seriously.

Montaigne’s Writing Journey

After his near-death experience, Montaigne retired to his country estate with the dream of living a carefree life. However, he fell into a state of melancholy, prompting him to follow the advice of Stoic philosopher Seneca and turn his focus towards writing. Montaigne’s twist on the philosophy was making himself the focal point of his reflections and writing, leading to the creation of his renowned Essays.

Embracing Mediocrity

Montaigne believed that mediocrity and ordinariness should not be viewed as weaknesses. Instead, by accepting our limitations, we could achieve greatness. In his view, writing about himself was a way of exploring his humanity and sharing it with others. Through this process, he created a mirror in which readers could see reflections of themselves. His emphasis on embracing mediocrity was a rejection of the conventional notion of greatness that separates us from our fellow human beings. For Montaigne, it was a way of accepting ourselves as the limited, imperfect human beings we are while staying open to alternative perspectives and ways of thinking.

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