Thoughts on: “How to Live: or a Life of Montaigne” by Sarah Bakewell

Ah Montaigne! I’m glad I got to know you. You are now officially added to my list of peculiar historical men that fascinate me to no end – alongside Ben Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt.


He wrote 107 essays with simple titles like “of Friendship”, “of Cannibals”, “of Names” and “of Cripples”. He was an observer of the world but most of all he observed and wrote about himself.


📝 He was send out by his parents to be nursed by peasants as an infant in a weird attempt to create a bond with “the commoners” that he would one day need to help.


📝 His parents educational experiment continued; Montaigne was brought up as a native Latin speaker! A tough plan to put in practice since the were almost no native latin speakers around. The rest of the household spoke minimal or no Latin.


📝 “A man… should touch his wife prudently and soberly, lest if he caresses her too lasciviously the pleasure should transport her outside the bound of reason” Montaigne quoted Aristotle. Saying, basically, the conventional notion in those days that being a passionate husband would turn the wife into a nymphomaniac. 😂


📝 Pay attention!

As Montaigne learned, one of the best techniques for paying attention is to write about everything. Just to describe simple things in the world opens your eyes to how marvelous they are.


📝 “Still French was his language of choice”. His essays gives a weird reason for this: French could not be expected to last in the same way as the classical languages (I.e. Latin). This was freeing. If his writing was flawed, there was less pressure on him since the where doomed anyway.


📝 He was a big fan of Hellenistic philosophy; Stoicism and Skepticism in particular. Stoicism encourages wise detachment and skeptics held themselves back on principle. His motto was “What do I know?”.


📝 In “on cripples” Montaigne writes about a rumor that lame women are more enjoyable in bed, and as Aristotle before him, he speculates that it must be that “their vaginas are more muscular because they receive the nourishment of which the legs are deprived.”


It’s a fascinating biography even for the uninitiated! Now I just need to read his actual essays!


4/5

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Recovering from depression induced by “Superintelligence”.

“Superintelligence” was a great and valuable read but it left me depressed. There seems to be so many dangers with AI and just so much time for us to get a grip on the control problem before It arrives.

To lift myself up I started to read “How to Live: or a life of Montaigne” by Sarah Bakewell. Ooooh WOW! It’s wonderful so far! Such a delight!

As I hinted in the picture, I know a thing or two about how to live (at least this week! Hehe! ), enjoying myself in beautiful surrounding with an eminent all-you-can-eat buffet.

Check out my review of Superintelligence and enjoy your Monday!

Thoughts on: “At the Existentialists Café” by Sarah Bakewell

Time for a small break from the Top- 10 countdown before it reaches its crescendo. 😎

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This became my first encounter with the modern existentialists thanks to a recommendation by @inside_brians_brain . In this book we get to know Sartre and de Beauvoir primarily – but also Camus, Heidegger, Merleau Ponty to name a few! And we are taken on a journey where we get to familiarize with their concerns about being human, freedom and above all; authenticity.

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📝 Remnants of existentialist ideas in modern culture: “The vague longing for a more “real” way of living leads some people for example to sign up for weekend retreats in which their smartphones are taken away, like toys from children, so that they can spend two days walking in the country landscape and reconnect to each other and their forgotten selfs.” Did I mention that I wished for a “silent retreat” for Christmas?! 🤣

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📝 Phenomenology:

A philosophy of describing reality in detail, exactly how it’s experienced in the moment. An example of phenomenology in action would be wine tasting.

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📝 Sartre wrote a lot. Averaging 20 pages a day during his lifetime.

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📝 Sartre gave money away as fast as it came – and books after he read them. The only things he kept was his pipe and his pen. ”Nothing was to be kept in place of the money. Just memories.”

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📝 About the pre-war rise of the nazis: ”Sometimes the most educated people where the least inclined to take the nazis seriously, dismissing them as too absurd to last.”

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The books is complex and so are the persons it portrays. It was slow to hone me in – but now I’m excited to learn more! I’m already committing to further studies of the existentialists and to embrace the density of existence, it’s anxiety and contingencies.

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4/5

“At the Existentialists Café” by Sarah Bakewell

Photo credit: @punkass_bookjockeys on Instagram

Check out my reading lists for more great books!