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The Consolations of Philosophy Paperback – April 3, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679779175
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679779179
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

"It is common," Alain de Botton writes in The Consolations of Philosophy, "to assume that we are dealing with a highly intelligent book when we cease to understand it. Profound ideas cannot, after all, be explained in the language of children." While his easygoing exploration of philosophers from Socrates to Nietzsche isn't exactly written for the Blue's Clues set, few readers will cease to understand it. Furthermore, it's a joy to read. De Botton's 1997 How Proust Can Change Your Life forged a new kind of lit crit: an exploration of Remembrance of Things Past, delivered in the sweet-gummed envelope of an advice book. He returns to the self-help format here, this time plundering the great thinkers to puzzle out the way we ought to live.

What was stunning about the Proust book was de Botton's brazen annexing of a hallowed novelist to address lite emotional problems. That format is less arresting when applied to the philosophers, since which earnest philosophy major has not, from time to time, tried to apply the alpine heights of thought to his own humble worries? Usually, sophomoric attempts to turn to, say, Kant for advice on love tend to be unmitigated disasters. In de Botton's case, however, he is able to find consolation for a broken heart in Schopenhauer, consolation for inadequacy in Montaigne. Epicurus, usually associated with a love of luxury, is a solace for those of us without much money--and de Botton learns from him that "objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one. We need to rearrange our minds but are lured towards new shelves. We buy a cashmere cardigan as a substitute for the counsel of friends."

Lest the reader become burdened by all this philosophizing, the book is peppered with illustrations--the section on Nietzsche of course includes a DC Comics drawing of Superman. And it's further leavened by the author's personal anecdotes and winning confessional tone. Early on, for instance, he admits his own gnawing need for popularity: "A desire to please led me to laugh at modest jokes like a parent on the opening night of a school play." Before he became a medicine man for the soul, de Botton was a first-rate novelist, and it shows in his writing. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Three years ago, de Botton offered a delightful encounter with a writer many find unapproachable, in his bestselling How Proust Can Change Your Life. Now he attempts a similar undertaking--not wholly successful--with the great philosophers. In clear, witty prose, de Botton (who directs the graduate philosophy program at London University) sets some of their ideas to the mundane task of helping readers with their personal problems. Consolation for those feeling unpopular is found in the trial and death of Socrates; for those lacking money, in Epicurus' vision of what is essential for happiness. Senecan stoicism assists us in enduring frustration; Schopenhauer, of all people, mends broken hearts (by showing that "happiness was never part of the plan"); and Nietzsche encourages us to embrace difficulties. Black-and-white illustrations cleverly (sometimes too cleverly) accent the text: a "Bacardi and friends" ad, for example, illustrates the Epicurean doctrine of confused needs. Self-deprecating confessions pepper the book, a succinct account of an episode of impotence being the most daring. The quietly ironic style and eclectic approach will gratify many postmodern readers. But since the philosophers' opinions often cancel each other out (Montaigne undermines Seneca's trust in rational self-mastery, and Nietzsche repudiates "virtually all" that Schopenhauer taught), readers will need to pick and choose whose cogitations to take to heart. At his best (e.g., on Socrates), de Botton offers lucid popularization--an enjoyable read with "a few consoling and practical things" to say. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

I wasn't looking for some kind of idle 'fun' piece, full of so-called jokes and whimsy.
Sarah Dunnet
This is one of those rare books that is clearly written and easy to read, but full of insight.
Crystal Eitle
I would recommend this book to people interested in ways to live their life to the full.
Helen Ogilbee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

170 of 181 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The easiest accusation one can make is to say that this book is 'shallow.' But really what de Botton is doing is extremely clever. Making it seem as though he is simply recording what certain great philosophers saying, he is actually serving up a very dazzling interpretation of them. It is made to look so easy that one might say 'This is just philosophy for dummies.' But it's really not. To summarize and elucidate the philosophy of, for example, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche is an incredible achievement. When de Button wrote his book on Proust, lots of people said, 'He's just dumming down the great master.' It wasn't true of that book, and now in this book, it similarly isn't true that he is dumming anything down. The last reviewer from New York really made me mad. If The Consolations of Philosophy is pretentious, then I'm Socrates. Buy it, read it, and discover for yourself just what a joy this book is.
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85 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Houser VINE VOICE on June 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Somehow, I managed to get through high school and college without ever seriously reading any of the great Western philosophers. The Consolations of Philosophy is an excellent introduction and quick (I mean,QUICK) overview of six of these men. The deadwhitemales discussed are Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. The discussion is lively and thought-provoking--and amusingly illustrated. This book would serve as an excellent secondary text for an introduction to philosophy course. Even the most jaded undergraduate will want to learn more about the teachings of the philosophers covered. I found the chapters on Seneca ("Consolation for Frustration"), Montaigne ("Consolation for Inadequacy"), and Nietzsche ("Consolation for Difficulties") the most engaging and challenging. De Botton's writing and thinking are fresh and remind me, for some reason, of the cultural essays of Susan Bordo (and Camille Paglia in her more reasonable moments).
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96 of 104 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on April 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Having read Alain de Botton's highly amusing Proust book, I expected no less from CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY; and I was not disappointed. Five philosophers (Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche) and one giant of literature (Montaigne) are enlisted to help us deal with such universal problems as popularity, sexual rejection, poverty, and inadequacy.
Curiously, none of these philosophers (with the possible exception of Epicurus) led happy lives. Seneca was ordered by his pupil Nero to commit suicide; Montaigne was tortured to the point of distraction by kidney stones; and Nietzsche went mad. De Botton, however, shows how each one exhibited great common sense on at least one area in their lives.
The upshot of all this advice is to consider that others have it worse, buck up, and forge ahead despite all the obstacles. Not quite what Buddha discovered beneath the Bodhi Tree, but in this era of chicken soup for whatever ails you, it's a step up. Unlike most self-help books, this one instead of bloating two paragraphs into a 100,000-word book, leaves you hungry for more. Particularly useful are the notes in back, directing the reader to the sources and presumably further enlightenment.
I was a little put out that de Botton left out all mention of Boethius, whose CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY was one of the most influential books of the last 1,500 years and is still a very worthy book for accomplishing the same goals. As a skeptic, I was also disappointed that Lucian of Samosata was omitted. Oh, well, you can't criticise a book for what it was not. De Botton's selection is highly individual and, what is more, it works.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Entertaining and informative, thought-provoking and playful--that's Alain de Botton's new book for you. No wonder this is such a huge seller in Britain right now. Although I've not seen the television series on which the book is based (or is it the other way around?), I do want to reassure my fellow readers at Amazon that if they've liked any of de Botton's previous books (especially HOW PROUST CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE), they won't be disappointed at all with this new work, which comes with those amusing illustrations that are a trade mark of a de Botton book. While I suppose it's possible to cavil at the book's "popularization" of philosophy, the short answer to such complaints is simply to ask those cranky readers to stick to the millions of dusty old academic monographs at their local university libraries and stay away from someone as fun and playful as de Botton. If philosophy has always been THIS fun, I tell you, there would never have been any need for the Cultural Wars and books like THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Helen Belham on May 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Philosophers used to want to talk to real people. Nowadays, they just mumble to their colleagues, stab each other in the back in the pages of academic journals, and basically disgrace themselves in the eyes of the tradition of philosophy begun by Socrates. But not Alain de Botton. He really takes seriously the idea that philosophers are capable of conceiving of life and experience in new ways that console us - make us feel less alone and persecuted. This might sound silly, but this book truly does console. It is also wonderfully informative and witty. I read a review of this book in the New York Times that actually encouraged me to read it - though it was a terrible review. The reviewer was so sniffy and arrogant, I thought, 'I'm going to see if he's wrong.' Well, he certainly is. This is a small masterpiece. It's not a great great book - but it's what will be called a minor classic, a book that will be cherished and loved and passed around among friends. Incidentally, it's also got a great cover by that masterful Portland cartoonist, John Calahan
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More About the Author

Alain is the author of seven non-fiction books that look at the great questions of ordinary life - love, friendship, work, travel, home - in a way that is intellectually rigorous, therapeutic, amusing and always highly readable. His goal is to bring ideas back to where they belong: at the center of our lives.

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