The Complete Essays of Montaigne - Michel de Montaigne, Donald Frame Few things are more humbling that watching exceptional men humble themselves. In his collection of essays, nearly 900 pages long, Montaigne reflects on all things from the greatness of Rome to smells. With unpretentious ease, he references the western classical historians and philosophers who provide the foundations for his discussions with himself. And, with similar unpretentious ease, he agrees or disagrees with them or, more commonly, uses them to show they contradict each other. Repeatedly, he concedes that all this learning does not provide any real knowledge. We are neither happier nor wiser because of study. It’s all just a diversion. An exercise for a test that will never occur.

Writing with a sincerity I cannot even make analogy to, Montaigne’s Essays overflows with genuine sentiment. He refuses to hide behind obscurity and strikes a style that is so clear and accessible that you hear him rather than read him.

Montaigne is not the first to denigrate the ultimate value in study and clearly has not been the last. However, he is a well-educated man denouncing education. He writes without agenda. He is religious but does not advocate religion. He is a nationalist but does not advocate nationalism. His writings are about himself in the hope that incessant self-evaluation will reveal something about himself and others. He’s curious but, more importantly, honest about how little enlightenment a lifetime of study can really provide.

Normally, I plow through books this length just trying to get through them. I try to parse out whatever premise or process the writer is relying upon. But not with Montaigne. I found myself lingering over these essays. Listening to the conversation he was having with himself and hearing myself. Or at least what I want to sound like.

Montaigne is a great find and a welcome companion to anyone trying to obtain a classical liberal arts education.