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These are not the easy consolations of religion or psychology, telling us that everything will work out in the end or that we can be cured of our anxieties if we only have faith and employ a bit of self-help, these are the consolations of philosophy. Easy consolations are cruel lies as Nietzsche tells us. Philosophy provides understanding, not consolation, but the greatest consolation comes from understanding.

What I present here is a quick summary of the consolations offered. I cannot do the chapters written by Alain de Botton justice with these short summaries, please read the book. The book itself cannot do justice to the philosophers selected, please read the philosophers. Each has much more to offer, far beyond the simple consolations outlined in this book, but this book is a readable and easily accessible introduction.

The subject matter of philosophy is drawn from the real life problems faced by real people confronted by reality. As such, Alain de Button follows the example of Socrates in trying to make philosophy accessible to anyone with a taste for it. It is my modest hope that this abbreviated summary will help increase the appetite for philosophy.

Unpopularity – Look to Socrates and understand that your unpopular is simply a majority or plurality opinion and that very often majority opinions are irrational. Most popular opinions about life and reality are based upon misunderstandings, ignorance and mistakes anyway. Take comfort and treat such easy popular opinions and conventional wisdom with the skepticism that they deserve. Popular opinion is often as mistaken as it is held to be certain and common sense is too common to be of any value. We have the right, and the duty, to question all popular opinions, especially opinions about our worth. Living without thinking is popular, but you think, therefor you are unpopular- take consolation.

Not Having Enough Money – Look to Epicurus and understand that wealth cannot buy happiness. Pursuit of wealth, power and fame is a fool’s errand. The fool mistakes the acquisition of wealth for the things in this very short life that do have value such as friendship, thoughtfulness and freedom from exaggerated desire. You do not have enough money? How much money is enough? There is a diminishing marginal utility to wealth not found in friendship and thoughtfulness. Take consolation, you have not contracted the plague of endless desire, not everything desired is desirable anyway. You are not owned by material things, rejoice, you are the healthy one!

Frustration – Look to Seneca and understand that frustration is the product of your unrealistic and overly optimistic expectations. Temper your expectations and you will reduce your frustration level. We take great comfort in anticipation only to find that anticipation lies. A belief that everything will go well or as planned is the surest road to frustration. The cruel evil empress of the world herself, Fortune, intervenes in our lives too often. We should meditate on death and disaster daily to temper unrealistic hopes, anticipations and expectations and thus avoid metaphysical shocks. Always anticipate the worst and you find consolation in that things are not that bad after all.

Inadequacy – Look to Montaigne and understand that those who find you to be inadequate or weird cannot see beyond their own limited experience of existence. What is accepted as ‘normal’ leaves out more of the human experience that it includes. The world is more peculiar than the ‘adequate’ and ‘normal’ people can see. The dichotomy between normal and abnormal, adequate and inadequate is a false one. I will quote from the Roman playwright Terence who once said: “I am human, nothing of that which is human is alien to me.” So the next time you meet or hear about a trans-gendered person, cut them a break, their experience of life is just a human as yours. Take consolation, error stalks all narrowly conceived human judgments, there is more to you than the judgment of another person can do justice. Certainty is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Broken Heart – Look to Schopenhauer and take consolation in never having found the perfect spouse, there is no such thing. The best that can be hoped for is mutual toleration and at its worst, the spouses become the object of disgust to each other. We should not be surprised by misery. Happiness was never part of nature’s plan; just reproduction of suitable offspring. All of this bother about romantic love is nothing more than the path to fulfill the command of nature to reproduce. Your broken heart is just a symptom of the reproductive impulse being frustrated. Be consoled, your broken heart is result of a love interest that itself is the result of a misjudgment as what would make you ‘happy’. Be glad that your misjudgment was terminated, thank the one who rejected you and be wiser in the next encounter if this is possible.

Difficulties – Look to Nietzsche and find that difficulty, mastering difficulty, is the source of fulfillment. Difficulties are thus a source of joy. Our greatest pain is thus juxtaposed with our greatest joy. Rejoice in your difficulties, your growth is impossible without them. We all know the Neitzschean aphorism, “…what does not kill me makes me stronger”. Without pain to move us, we will languish in mediocrity. We will suffer in the course of overcoming difficulty and this is necessary as well as unavoidable and even desirable. Find in your difficulties great consolation, the mistake is to believe that success is possible without difficulty. Every adversity is thus an opportunity for growth if we do not waste it. Difficulty is the path to acquiring greatness. In Nietzschean terms, adversity is the necessary root for the flower of triumph. The consolation is that often a desirable result must start with an undesirable beginning. The road to fulfillment is not an easy one. The desire to abolish difficulty is as stupid as the desire to abolish bad weather.
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on May 24, 2014
Some people may have issues with Alain De Botton, but I'm not one of them. Is he a little bit "precious," as one critic put it? Yes, he may be, and admittedly, his approach may not be for everyone. But that does not reduce the fact that he does modern society an inestimable service by taking concepts and issues now commonly thought to be only the domain of the elite and over-educated, and in making them both interesting and approachable to the average lay-person, reacquaints us with aspects of our cultural heritage that can have direct bearing on the happiness quotient of our quotidian lives.

The most fundamentally important aspects of our psychology - status/wealth, love/sex, art/religion, work/leisure, death and bereavement are all subjects upon which De Botton has shined the light of a classically grounded education, and The Consolations of Philosophy consists of precisely that - topics such as inadequacy, frustration, lack of money, and unrequited love are approached using concrete examples gleaned from both the lives and writings of various philosophers.

Some will, with some validity, criticize this book for its playful tone and the fact that it does not go deeper. I would agree that if you are looking for a rigorous examination and critique of a certain philosopher and his thought, this is NOT the book for you. There exist whole libraries with exhaustive in depth comparative analysis of the influence of Schopenhauer on Nietzsche and such - this is not that book. This book does very well what it does - it covers areas that commonly inhibit our peace of mind from the perspective of the experiences (mostly) and the writings (somewhat) of famous philosophers, and in doing so illustrates some valuable, even eternal truths.

Entertaining, approachable and clear, educational and enlightening - unless you are looking for a heavyweight of a tome, this is worth your time.
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on February 5, 2012
I first learned of this book while watching the PBS series in December 2011, that was based on this work, featuring the author Alain de Botton as host (this was a great program to stumble upon during the miasma of the holiday season!). That series, similarly to the book, was comprised of one episode dedicated to each of the 6 philosophers in question (Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche). I found this work to be a fast, enjoyable and accessible read. It was absorbing enough that I was able to read it in public amid noise and distractions. "Consolations of Philosophy" was not something that I had to labour over; the focus and intention of this books' main themes and subsequent discussions were clear. De Botton deconstructed the principal concepts of these philosophers down to their essence. And as several other Amazon reviewers have mentioned, this work functions as both an introduction to philosophy -- As well as a self-help book. For anyone going through hard times in his / her life -- Emotionally, socially, fiscally -- This book will indeed be a great "consolation".

The only philosopher whose works I had read previous to reading "Consolations of Philosophy" was Nietzsche, a writer whose books ("Birth of Tragedy", "The Case of Wagner", "Twilight of the Idols" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra"; the latter being the most memorable) I've found to be simultaneously inspiring, mystifying, and incomprehensible. I attempted to read Schopenhauer a few years ago but it didn't hold my interest. Since completing this work by de Botton, I also tried to read "Selected Essays" by Michel de Montaigne (Dover Thrift Editions, 2011). But I had trouble connecting with Montaigne as well.

What I ultimately found to be one of the most important and moving aspects of "Consolations of Philosophy" was the fact that Nietzsche, in spite of his hardships and loneliness -- Did not allow his vision to be influenced by pessimism (this notion being stressed by de Botton in this book). Although the life of Nietzsche seems to have been cursed; to have been deprived of happiness -- Deep down he must have known that he alone was responsible for his state of being (as conversely, he advised men "to live dangerously").

Stephen C. Bird, Author of "Any Resemblance To A Coincidence Is Accidental"
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on February 12, 2015
I have a hard time rating this book because it was really hard for me to read and hard for me to enjoy. I think I just didn't understand the authors style of writing.
The concepts discussed are worth understanding though.
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on December 16, 2014
I saw the TV series on public television and it had my full attention for several hours. The author provides a summary of some major philosophers by using a chronological / problem oriented format. That is, for each of chapter there is a certain philosopher and problem examined in combination. Some of the top rated reviews for this book list the challenges.

After reading from the author's other very good books, and hearing a few on CD, I conclude that Alain de Botton is trying to make historical philosophy more relevant for today and the contemporary mindset of young and middle aged people. However, one tension that could arise from using philosophy to adapt to society's circumstances is that one would become overly introverted and disengaged from public life. Then again, the consolations of philosophy can allow one to resolve certain dilemmas and then resolutely press forward on social, political and scientific goals one has reached through rational thought.
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on February 21, 2013
I've really enjoyed reading this book because I learned a lot about the lives of philosophers whose names are household names, but the details of whose lives and philosophy are really not known by the lay public. I really appreciate De Botton's work because he makes esoteric information accessible to the public, in a way that makes philosophy relevant to our daily lives. Unfortunately, learning about the lives of philosophers does not make one want to become one, as many of them were completely misunderstood in their times and were, in fact, murdered by the existing powers. But, this book does make one pause to think about the roots of our modern day troubles (frustrations, unpopularity, not enough money, etc.) are really as being ancient problems in a new context. By examining the common features of our current problems and those of old, we can also learn how thoughtful human beings have dealt with these issues in the past.
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on May 12, 2014
I was looking forward to some serious engagement with philosophers I admire but seek to learn more about. What I got was an individualistic self help book that, sadly, takes these philosophers seriously only when they soothe our distress at not meeting particular (and arbitrarily chosen?) societal expectations. Never are these thinkers allowed to challenge the status quo. Instead, through De Botton's lens, they challenge us to be better at living up to it.
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on March 2, 2017
Easy to read and insightful - I'm using it in a college class.
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on May 25, 2012
This book contains many conclusions and insights that were obtained through the analysis and study of six great philosophers that have asked the same questions that we humans do. Some quotes I can share with you include:

"What should worry us is not the number of people who oppose us, but how good their reasons are for doing so."
"What makes us angry are dangerously optimistic notions about what the world and other people are like."
"It is tempting, when we are hurt, to believe that the thing which hurt us intended to do so."

This is great work, but it's not an ordinary study of the classics of philosophy. I hated my philosophy class, the teacher made it extremely tedious and boring. This is fresh insight that contains many answers to life's questions. I have been considerably more calm and happy (and productive) after reading his books. This is great literature.

I also recommend this other book, with was the first one I ever read by him.
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
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on February 7, 2010
Some people find Philosophy useless because it sounds like a bunch of ideas with no apparent use in everyday life. In his work, Alain de Botton has surpassed the "uselessness" of Philosophy and has used six fundamental philosophers (Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Shopenhauer, and Nietzsche) to communicate to the reader that six things which usually provoque distress in our lives (respectively: unpopularity, lack of money, frustration, inadequacy, a broken heart, and difficulties) are not to be taken so seriously, or are even perceived in the wrong way (negative instead of positive). With humorous anecdotes and pictures, de Botton manages to get his message through: philosophy is not something unknowable and out of reach, but a series of principles which can be applied easily and may even open a door for us where we thought all possibilities of happiness were shut down. For anyone interested in these philosophers and their philosophy, or anyone suffering any of the distresses mentioned above, this book is a light and manageable reading, both historically and intellectually enlightning. I enjoyed it very much.
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