This compact new study by William Hamlin, professor of English at Washington State and specialist on the English reception of Montaigne, was written for the Oxford series of Very Short Introductions, which claims over 650 titles, very few of which are devoted to French authors. They’ve done Voltaire and Descartes but not (yet) Molière or Proust. Even more scandalously, there’s no volume on Erasmus, but we won’t blame Hamlin for that. His work is organized in nine chapters that cover the main topics and contexts of Montaigne’s Essays, and for each chapter Hamlin has included bibliographical references and suggestions for further reading. A general bibliography and an index round out the volume.

The book is obviously aimed at English-language readers with no previous knowledge of Montaigne, but I found it to be an agreeable and profitable use of my time. The whole thing is written in a congenial and...

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