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The Consolations of Philosophy
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178 of 189 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2000
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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87 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2000
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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99 of 107 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2001
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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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2000
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
on May 26, 2000
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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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 19, 2001
This book is highly readable, yet never simple-minded or patronizing to the reader. Alain de Botton succeeds in bringing to life the most important concepts of some of the most important Western philosophers, relating them in a very effective manner to the everyday trials and tribulations any human being might experience.
The reviewer who had "trouble" with this approach seems to have missed the point, and to have misunderstood the Socrates section in particular. (Alain de Botton is not suggesting we be consoled by the thought that future generations will think us right; he suggests that if we have reasoned out our position and find it correct by method of such reason, we should not be troubled if that position is unpopular. This is the example Socrates provided, and also what de Botton relates.)
This book will turn you on to Montaigne, to philosophy, and to the possibilities of learning in general. The humor that runs throughout the book makes reading it a true joy, as well as a worthwhile endeavor.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2000
A confession: I'm a philosophy major, so I approached this book with caution. I wasn't looking for some kind of idle 'fun' piece, full of so-called jokes and whimsy. I was really afraid that this is what this book was going to be. But no; de Botton (who must have one of the strangest and most wonderful names of any writer writing today!) really is a master at a brilliant kind of essayistic reading. This is the sort of book that - believe it or not - keeps you up half the night reading. It's a million times better than any of those shlock self-help books hogging the NYTimes bestseller list. The author has a highly engaging voice. And though he has little hair left, his author photo is very cute too. Alain, if ever you're passing through LA, give me a call!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2001
After reading How Proust Can Change Your Life, also by author Botton, I searched out his other works. This book is an attempt to highlight the works of six famous philosophers and to apply their writings to everyday experiences. Socrates and Epicurus represents the works of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. I especially found the information on Epicurus to be useful in life. The word Epicurean has come to symbolize lavish living but actually Epicurus writes that wants can be pared down to necessities, such as friendship, and that everyone can "afford" to be happy. The most interesting chapters to me dealt with philosophers Montaigne and Nietzsche. Montaigne was one of the first to write of the total human experience, not just the "pretty" parts. My favorite observation in the entire book comes when Montaigne must pay homage to his best friend, who has just died suddenly. "He alone had the privilege of my true portrait." It is difficult to find another human being who you can truly be yourself with, warts and all. The chapter on Nietzsche deals with preparing for the difficulties of life and how by only experiencing discomfort or suffering can we truly achieve our dreams. If one constantly avoids pain, the greatest achievements available to humans cannot be obtained.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in philosophy, especially a beginner. It spurred me to read Montaigne's essays. Complete with illustrations and pictures which serve to illuminate the text, this is a wonderful book.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2003
Not to be mistaken for an introduction to philosophy, this little book is instead an entertaining primer on how to take a philosophical approach to life. Alain de Botton takes six human experiences or conditions (unpopularity, poverty, frustration, inadequacy, brokenheartedness and despair) and examines each from the point of view of a different philosopher (Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche). His writing is engaging and witty ("Few philosophers have thought highly of feeling wretched. A wise life has traditionally been associated with an attempt to reduce suffering.... Then again, pointed out Friedrich Nietzsche, the majority of philosophers have always been 'cabbage heads'"), yet de Botton never "dumbs down" the subject matter. THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY is a light enough read for the subway, but substantial enough to provoke thought. Highly recommended; not for neophytes only.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2000
What I love about this book is just how mad it seems to make philosophy professors. There they go jumping up and down saying - it's trivial, it's not philosophy, listen to me, buy my books instead etc (for the latest example of this check out Andrew Carpenter's review below). And yet, speaking as someone who did FOUR years of philosophy at college/PhD level, I can say that De Botton's book is a triumph, capturing the essence of what philosophy is about, detailing it in a human way, and what is more, writing like a dream. Let's not quibble about whether this book tells you everything you ever wanted to know about philosophy; of course it doesn't, but it's a wonderful portrait of a few great philosophers and why they matter.
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