Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Born near Bordeaux in 1533, Montaigne retired from a life of public service aged 38 and began to write. He called these short works ‘essais’, or ‘attempts’; they deal with an eclectic range of subjects, from the dauntingly weighty to the apparently trivial. Although he never considered himself a philosopher, he is often now seen as one of the most outstanding Sceptical thinkers of early modern Europe. His approachable style, intelligence and subtle thought have made him one of the most widely admired writers of the Renaissance.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • David Wootton 16 episodes
    Anniversary Professor of History at York University
  • Terence Cave No other episodes
    Emeritus Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford
  • Felicity Green No other episodes
    Chancellor's Fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh

Reading list

  • How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer
    Sarah Bakewell (Vintage, 2011) Google Books →
  • Montaigne
    Peter Burke (Oxford University Press, 1981) Google Books →
  • How to Read Montaigne
    Terence Cave (Granta Books, 2007) Google Books →
  • Montaigne
    Hugo Friedrich (trans. Dawn Eng) (University of California Press, 1991) Google Books →
  • Montaigne and the Life of Freedom
    Felicity Green (Cambridge University Press, 2012) Google Books →
  • Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England
    Stephen Greenblatt (Clarendon Press, 1990) Google Books →
  • The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne
    Ullrich Langer (ed.) (Cambridge University Press, 2005) Google Books →
  • Essays of Michel de Montaigne
    Michel de Montaigne (trans. Charles Cotton) (Mundus Publishing, 1991) Google Books →
  • The Complete Essays
    Michel de Montaigne (trans. M. A. Screech) (Penguin Classics, 1993) Google Books →
  • The Essays of Montaigne: A Critical Exploration
    Richard Sayce (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972) Google Books →
  • Montaigne and the Art of Free-Thinking
    Richard Scholar (Peter Lang, 2010) Google Books →
  • Montaigne and Melancholy
    M. A. Screech (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000) Google Books →
  • Montaigne in Motion
    Jean Starobinski (University of Chicago Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • The Return of Martin Guerre
    Natalie Zemon Davis (Harvard University Press, 1984) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b01s0qmj

Episode page:

Auto-category: 800 (Literature)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, Michel de Montaigne's essays, first published in 1580, begin rather unconventionally.