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As ought to be clear to anyone who reads the rest of the Essais, its main subject, despite the title, is not cannibals, or even the paradise in the Andes described in the second part of the essay, but rather how we ought to judge other cultures - and ourselves.
“The Power of the Imagination” shows how superstitions can kill, self-consciousness can defeat, and a doctor’s reassurance can cure.
“The Education of Children” lists Montaigne’s surprisingly modern ideas for how kids should be taught.
Though he cites frequently the sayings of ancient philosophers, he also trusts his own judgment, and the gist of the essays is that we, too, should trust ourselves—that life isn’t so much a problem to be solved as an experience to be enjoyed for what it is.
The book’s original French is translated into English for modern Americans; it contains extensive footnotes, many of which provide historical background and serve as annotations well worth consulting.
“The Cannibals” suggests that so-called “barbaric” tribes have lessons to teach Europeans.
“Democritus and Heraclitus” finds common cause with famous pessimists.
Every author of major stature is soon cut down to size by anthologists. Eliot once said, I believe, that he would be very glad if "Tradition and the Individual Talent" were never printed again so that his other essays might have some chance of being read.
For most readers who do not go beyond the anthology (or, if they do, remember only what they first read and cannot shake off the impression that it is the real heart of the author) Donne's Sermons are a vague penumbra around the passage about no men being islands and not asking for whom the bell tolls, Don Quixote is a long epilogue to the adventure of the windmills, and Proust crouches forever over his petite Madeleine. Montaigne, if he were alive today, might well say the same about his own essay "Of Cannibals." An unfortunate result of the frequent choice of this essay for inclusion in anthologies is that it has often been misunderstood through being read out of context.
“A Malformed Child” opines that everything, even the strange or deformed, is part of Nature’s plan.
Three selections come from Book 3: “Repenting”, on the folly of apologizing for who you really are; “Physiognomy,” on the wars and plagues that visit Montaigne’s neighborhood; and “Experience,” which touts the virtues of common sense over fancy ideals.