A Summer with Montaigne: On the Art of Living Well

Europa. May 2019. 144p. tr. from French by Tina Kover. ISBN 9781609455309. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781609455316. PHIL
This slim, compact volume—first published as Un été avec Montaigne—provides 40 short chapters on French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne's eclectic Essays. It originated when Compagnon (French literature, Collège de France; French & comparative literature, Columbia Univ.) was invited to give a short talk about Essays on French radio, but the author's publications on Montaigne (1533–92) date to the 1970s. Somewhat reminiscent of M.A. Screech's Montaigne and Melancholy, this work unpacks many of Montaigne's memorable essays—among them, "Of Cannibals," "Of Books," "An Apology for Raymond Sebond," "Of Experience," "Upon Some Verses of Virgil," and "That To Study Philosophy Is To Learn To Die." Anecdotal and biographical reflections include Montaigne's horseback riding and his close, fleeting friendship with French writer Étienne de la Boétie. Kover's sprightly translation brings this playful but serious book to English readers.
VERDICT Agreeably useful reading in any season; as Compagnon quotes from Montaigne's concluding essay, "Aesop, that great man, saw his master piss as he walked: 'What then,' said he, 'must we drop as we run?' Let us manage our time; there yet remains a great deal idle and ill employed." Recommended for Montaigne scholars and general readers alike.
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