Book Review: On Friendship

In November I expressed excitement about Penguin’s new series of thin softbacks called "Great Ideas," a collection of the books and essays that have changed the world.

I just got around to reading the first on my list: On Friendship by Michel De Montaigne. The first 50 pages are a good read; the rest is disappointing and off-topic.

Montaigne was the originator of the modern essay and heavily quoted in the NYRB article on the Art of Conversation.

Instead of a formal review, here are my favorite quotes from the book. Some wise words.

  • "There seems to be nothing for which nature has prepared us better than for fellowship.
  • Love is striving to establish friendship on the external signs of beauty.
  • All the arguments in the world have no power to dislodge me from the certainty which I have of the intentions and decisions of my friend.
  • It is not my concern to tell the world how to behave (plenty of others do that) but how I behave in it. This is what I do: do what serves you.
  • For the intimate companionship of my table I choose the agreeable not the wise; in my bed, beauty comes before virtue; in social conversation, ability — even without integrity. And so on.
  • I was once taught that a belief is like an impression stamped on our soul: the softer and less resisting the soul, the easier it is to print anything on it.
  • The most fruitful and natural exercise of our minds is conversation…In conversation the most painful quality is perfect harmony.
  • Since opinions do not find in me a ready soil to thrust and spread their roots into, no premise shocks me, no belief hurts me, no matter how opposite to my own they may be.
  • Contradictory judgments neither offend me nor irritate me: they merely wake up and provide me with exercise. When I am contradicted it arouses my attention not my wrath.
  • We ought to toughen and fortify our ears against being seduced by the sound of polite words.
  • Any man may speak truly: few men can speak ordinately, wisely, adequately."

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