Living at a time of religious strife and the decline of the intellectual optimism that had begun in the Renaissance, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592) expressed in his writings both a deep skepticism about human affairs and a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity reflective of the age. His was not a systematic philosophy; rather, he wrote pieces that were attempts at knowledge-essays in understanding, or essais, as he called them in French. He thus inaugurated a new literary genre that proved to be very influential.
Despite his skepticism, Montaigne realized that the intellectual horizon of his day was full of exciting new developments. His essays reflect many interests, plus a refreshing honesty about the frailties of human nature. Montaigne writes about vanity, the value of friendship, "That to Study Philosophy Is to Learn to Die," and a host of other topics.
Filled with insights and keen observations that have inspired later writers as diverse as William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Gustave Flaubert, Virginia Woolf, and Roland Barthes, the Essays of Montaigne should be on the essential reading list of every student, scholar, and book lover.