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: Infinite Powers by Steven H. Strogatz

Updated 19 June 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Infinite Powers by Steven H. Strogatz

  • It harnesses an unreal number — infinity — to tackle real‑world problems

Without calculus, we would not have cellphones, TV, GPS, or ultrasound. We would not have unraveled DNA or discovered Neptune or figured out how to put 5,000 songs in your pocket. 

Though many of us were scared away from this essential, engrossing subject in high school and college, Steven Strogatz’s brilliantly creative, down‑to‑earth history shows that calculus is not about complexity; it is about simplicity. It harnesses an unreal number — infinity — to tackle real‑world problems, breaking them down into easier ones and then reassembling the answers into solutions that feel miraculous. 

Infinite Powers recounts how calculus tantalized and thrilled its inventors, starting with its first glimmers in ancient Greece and bringing us right up to the discovery of gravitational waves (a phenomenon predicted by calculus), says a review published on goodreads.com.

Strogatz reveals how this form of math rose to the challenges of each age: How to determine the area of a circle with only sand and a stick; how to explain why Mars goes “backward” sometimes; how to make electricity with magnets and how to ensure your rocket does not miss the moon.