Few inventions can truly be attributed to one person. We say Edison made the lightbulb, and we say Bell made the telephone, but in reality both of them were just at the end of a long line of cumulative innovations.
Michel de Montaigne, the Renaissance French writer, is one of the few true innovators in human history. Before Montaigne first published his Essays in 1580, the personal essay did not exist. After Montaigne, it was one of the most popular art forms in Europe. Montaigne was to literature what Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, and Grandmaster Flash were to popular music, combined.
Innumerable writers since the 1580s have been influenced by Montaigne and saw themselves in his Essays, as Sarah Bakewell writes in her biography of him, How to Live. Ever since the book came out, Montaigne has been an extremely relatable figure in contemporary society. After having read Montaigne, Stefan Zweig said “Here is a ‘you’ in which my ‘I’ is reflected; here is where all distance is abolished.” More simply — Bernard Levin said “How did he know all that about me?” In this next episode of Book-ish, I’ll tell you how.
This podcast was written and recorded by Gabe Robare, and was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian. It was edited by Cammie Lee and produced by Francesca Block with copy-editing and production help from Isabel Rodrigues.
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