In his writing and his person, Michel de Montaigne embodied the Humanist ideal. He stands at the start of the French Renaissance in philosophy and literature. But what does Montaigne have to tell us about how to think and live today? In forty short and lively chapters written over a single summer, Antoine Compagnon seeks answers to that question. Compagnon and his subject are congenial, erudite companions. Both are vivid reminders that while ever there are people willing to consider carefully, observe passionately, and speak measuredly, there is hope.
A few years ago, Antoine Compagnon was asked to host a radio broadcast, every day for an entire summer, on a formidable subject: Michel de Montaigne. From that experience came this engaging and entertaining book, A Summer with Montaigne. An intelligent and thought-provoking treatise in forty chapters that will introduce readers unfamiliar with Montaigne to his unique brilliance and remind those who already know Montaigne’s work of its vitality, force, and enduring timeliness.
Compagnon breathes life into the musings of Montaigne, approaching his subject not as the recluse many imagine him to have been, but rather a multi-faceted individual of complex thought and astonishing analytical prowess. Once the mayor of Bordeaux, Montaigne was a committed spirit of his time, advising his powerful contemporaries and always in touch with the questions and concerns of the moment, of which many remain pressing today. Composed over a period of twenty years, Montaigne’s Essays deal with timeless themes. From the problems posed by religion, war, power and friendship to the ridiculousness of our weaknesses, Montaigne’s Essays remain a moving commentary on what it means to be a human being in any age.
Is this a serious and philosophical book? Certainly. But Compagnon never pontificates and is never austere. Many of the anecdotes he chooses allow us to approach the world of Montaigne with a sense of humor and, most importantly, companionship.
Antoine Compagnon is a Professor of French Literature at Collège de France, Paris, and the Blanche W. Knopf Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, New York. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds honorary degrees from King’s College London, HEC Paris, and the University of Liege.