Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Consolations Of Philosophy by Alain De Botton

The Consolations Of Philosophy by Alain De Botton
Published by Hamish Hamilton in January 2000.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the internationally heralded author of How Proust Can Change Your Life comes this remarkable new book that presents the wisdom of some of the greatest thinkers of the ages as advice for our day to day struggles.

Solace for the broken heart can be found in the words of Schopenhauer. The ancient Greek Epicurus has the wisest, and most affordable, solution to cash flow problems. A remedy for impotence lies in Montaigne. Seneca offers advice upon losing a job. And Nietzsche has shrewd counsel for everything from loneliness to illness. The Consolations of Philosophy is a book as accessibly erudite as it is useful and entertaining. 

The Consolations Of Philosophy is the third of the three Alain De Botton books I borrowed this year. It is more similar in style to The Art Of Travel than Status Anxiety and is the earliest book of the trio which I thought did show in the writing and, sometimes, in the choice of illustrations. Black and white photography is often rendered indistinctly on paperback pages and I felt this was the case here, plus I didn't think we needed quite so many obvious illustrations. When De Botton mentions babies in the text, we are shown a photo of a baby. A mention of people meeting in a cafe is illustrated with a photo of a cafe. Some of the pictures are interesting - two sketches illustrating the drastic improvements in an artist's drawing style for example - but many seemed simply to be filler. De Botton discusses a Nietzschean theory concerning the level of continuous work needed over years in order to significantly improve one's creative output and I appreciated spotting this exactly in De Botton's style from The Consolations Of Philosophy in 2000 to Status Anxiety in 2004!

De Botton quotes from six eminent philosophers, each one chosen to foil a particular issue beginning with Socrates' words consoling us for feeling ourselves disliked. He weaves in details of the philosophers' lives which I liked as this gave me some understanding of how their theories might have been inspired. There was lots I didn't know - such as Epicurus actually promoting a frugal diet in his teachings, not the gourmet dining with which his name has now become synonymous. I did feel that sometimes the quotes were tenuously chosen though and obviously cherry-picked to fit each of De Botton's six themes. I think The Consolations Of Philosophy is a good 'beginner' book and I will be happy if I can remember a quarter of the ideas long-term! De Botton's writing is generally accessible - to this layperson at least - and I am encouraged to delve further into discovering philosophical ideas and thoughts.

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  1. If you are interested in more philosophy, I recommend the podcast The Partially Examined Life. I love it!

    1. I've not ventured into podcasts before, but will check out this one :-)

  2. Not my kind of book but glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Hmm. This is prob not something I'd read, but that's a good idea to compile something like this. The pictures do sound kind of unnecessary, but I'm glad you enjoyed some of it!

    1. I am becoming more interested in philosophy as I get older, just wish it wasn't so male-centric. I need to make the effort to search out female philosophers. There must be some!