What We Are Reading Today: Montaigne: A Life by Philippe Desan

Updated 11 January 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Montaigne: A Life by Philippe Desan

  • Montaigne always considered himself a political figure

One of the most important writers and thinkers of the Renaissance, Michel de Montaigne (1533–92) helped invent a literary genre that seemed more modern than anything that had come before. But did he do it, as he suggests in his Essays, by retreating to his chateau, turning his back on the world, and stoically detaching himself from his violent times? 

In this definitive biography, Philippe Desan, one of the world’s leading authorities on Montaigne, overturns this longstanding myth by showing that Montaigne was constantly concerned with realizing his political ambitions — and that the literary and philosophical character of the Essays largely depends on them, according to a review on the Princeton University Press website. The most comprehensive and authoritative biography of Montaigne yet written, this sweeping narrative offers a fascinating new picture of his life and work. As Desan shows, Montaigne always considered himself a political figure and he conceived of each edition of the Essays as an indispensable prerequisite to the next stage of his public career. 


What We Are Reading Today: 99 Variations on a Proof by Philip Ording

Updated 24 January 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: 99 Variations on a Proof by Philip Ording

  • Book draws unexpected connections to everything from mysticism and technology to architecture and sign language.

 

This book offers a multifaceted perspective on mathematics by demonstrating 99 different proofs of the same theorem.

Each chapter solves an otherwise unremarkable equation in distinct historical, formal, and imaginative styles that range from medieval, topological, and doggerel to chromatic, electrostatic, and psychedelic.

With a rare blend of humor and scholarly aplomb, Philip Ording weaves these variations into an accessible and wide-ranging narrative on the nature and practice of mathematics, according to a review on the Princeton University Press website.

Inspired by the experiments of the Paris-based writing group known as the Oulipo — whose members included Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino, and Marcel Duchamp — Ording explores new ways to examine the aesthetic possibilities of mathematical activity.

99 Variations on a Proof is a mathematical take on Queneau’s Exercises in Style, a collection of 99 retellings of the same story, and it draws unexpected connections to everything from mysticism and technology to architecture and sign language.