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How a Kidney Stone Led Author Michael Perry to Write 'Montaigne in Barn Boots'

For a long time, the “Montaigne” most mentioned on public radio has been former Morning Edition host Renee Montagne. But long before Renee Montagne started appearing on the airwaves, there was another Montaigne making waves. 

Michel de Montaigne was a 16th century French philosopher, whose collection Essais​ is credited as containing some of the most influential essays ever written, including Of Cannibals.

Now, the philosopher and nobleman is the subject of a new book by Wisconsin writer Michael Perry, Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy.

Perry admits he was first introduced to Montaigne in a rather unusual way: he had a kidney stone. 

"Like a lot of self-employed folks, I had really bad health insurance and I knew I was going to have to pay for the trip to the ER and the meds and all that out of my own pocket, so as I was lying on the gurney in the ER I thought, well, I should try and write an essay about this and maybe I can sell it to a magazine. And indeed, I pitched it from the ER and got the go ahead."

He continues, "I started reading medical journal pieces about kidney stones... I think docs and researchers who write pieces like that, they're always looking for a way to make their research more interesting and so they would put a little something in there about this guy Montaigne, who had written about having kidney stones in the 1500s. So honestly, it's embarrassing to admit that's how I discovered him, because as a writer I should've been able to tell you, 'Well, some say he invented the essay,' but no. I came to him through kidney stones."