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: Explain Me This by Adele E. Goldberg

Updated 22 January 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Explain Me This by Adele E. Goldberg

  • Adele Goldberg explores how these creative but constrained language skills emerge from a combination of general cognitive mechanisms and experience

We use words and phrases creatively to express ourselves in ever-changing contexts, readily extending language constructions in new ways. Yet native speakers also implicitly know when a creative and easily interpretable formulation — such as “Explain me this” or “She considered to go” — doesn’t sound quite right. 

In this incisive book, Adele Goldberg explores how these creative but constrained language skills emerge from a combination of general cognitive mechanisms and experience.

Shedding critical light on an enduring linguistic paradox, Goldberg demonstrates how words and abstract constructions are generalized and constrained in the same ways, according a review on the Princeton University Press website. When learning language, we record partially abstracted tokens of language within the high-dimensional conceptual space that is used when we speak or listen. Our implicit knowledge of language includes dimensions related to form, function, and social context.