Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), one of the most consequential writers of all time, was born into the French aristocracy and educated in the Latin and Greek classics at home by his father. Later, he studied law, became a distinguished public servant, and even advised several French kings. After the death of his father in 1571, Montaigne retired from public service to devote himself to reading and writing.
By Ed Marks and Dan Cummings, revised by Joe Phelan
In the spring of 1849, Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881) faced a Russian firing squad. He had been accused of the political crime of promoting utopian socialism, a popular ideology that threatened the deeply conservative government of Czar Nicholas I. Just as the order was being given to the firing squad to shoot, a messenger appeared with an edict from the Czar commuting the sentence to four years of hard labor in Siberia.