The Honest Autobiographer: Michel de Montaigne – Essays

EssaysEssays by Michel de Montaigne (trans. J.M. Cohen)

Any Montaigne is more or less something I’d recommend (aside from his distasteful opinions towards women, he’s remarkably timeless), so I’m concerned here mostly with the edition I read: J.M. Cohen’s older translation for Penguin Classics, which has been reissued with as Montaigne: Essays. It’s maybe a little stuffy, but it’s a charming translation, well annotated with lots of notes (mostly to identify and translate the various quotes Montaigne sprinkled throughout his text). The introduction is good too, providing a nice history of the author and this book’s legacy.

There’s only a couple of things I found lacking: there isn’t a ton of context for the way Montaigne composed his text (although maybe a commentary is asking too much for an introduction) and it’s a pretty short abridgement, containing just 26 essays, some of them quite short. It does include some of the more famous ones, though: On Friendship, On Cannibals, On Experience (easily my favorite of the collection) and On the Art of Conversation. There’s also a fun one on smells, too.

Rating: 7/10. I’d recommend it to someone interested in reading Montaigne but is wary of tackling the complete essays. And if you’re like me, you’ll quickly want to move on from this to a more complete collection (like The Complete Works published by Everyman’s Library).


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