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Summary and book reviews of The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

The Consolations of Philosophy

by Alain de Botton

The Consolations of Philosophy
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2000, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2001, 320 pages

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Book Summary

A delightful, truly consoling work that proves that philosophy can be a supreme source of help for our most painful everyday problems.

From the author of How Proust Can Change Your Life, a delightful, truly consoling work that proves that philosophy can be a supreme source of help for our most painful everyday problems.

Perhaps only Alain de Botton could uncover practical wisdom in the writings of some of the greatest thinkers of all time. But uncover he does, and the result is an unexpected book of both solace and humor. Dividing his work into six sections -- each highlighting a different psychic ailment and the appropriate philosopher -- de Botton offers consolation for unpopularity from Socrates, for not having enough money from Epicurus, for frustration from Seneca, for inadequacy from Montaigne, and for a broken heart from Schopenhauer (the darkest of thinkers and yet, paradoxically, the most cheering). Consolation for envy -- and, of course, the final word on consolation -- comes from Nietzsche: "Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us."

This wonderfully engaging book will, however, make us feel better in a good way, with equal measures of wit and wisdom.

Chapter One
Consolations for Unpopularity

A few years ago, during a bitter New York winter, with an afternoon to spare before catching a flight to London, I found myself in a deserted gallery on the upper level of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was brightly lit, and aside from the soothing hum of an under-floor heating system, entirely silent. Having reached a surfeit of paintings in the Impressionist galleries, I was looking for a sign for the cafeteria -- where I hoped to buy a glass of a certain variety of American chocolate milk of which I was at that time extremely fond -- when my eye was caught by a canvas which a caption explained had been painted in Paris in the autumn of 1786 by the thirty-eight year old Jacques-Louis David.

Socrates, condemned to death by the people of Athens, prepares to drink a cup of hemlock, surrounded by woebegone friends. In the spring of 399 BC, three Athenian citizens had brought legal proceedings against the philosopher. They had ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Time Out New York

[T]hanks to the author's characteristically whimsical and lucid style, the book does offer more than a refresher course in basic philosophy. Consolations like Proust before it, is downright delightful to read.

Publishers Weekly

The quietly ironic style and eclectic approach will gratify many postmodern readers..... At his best (e.g., on Socrates), de Botton offers lucid popularization--an enjoyable read with a few consoling and practical things to say.

Kirkus Reviews

Congenial, refreshing, original and mercifully succinct de Botton may well achieve the impossible by making philosophy popular.

The New York Times Book Review - Jonathan Lear

There is a need for someone to bring that joyful activity of mind we call philosophy to the wider reading public. And de Botton ... writes with verve.

Reader Reviews
Emily Pound

a must read!

Stephen

This is if not the best one of the best books I have ever read. I stongly suggest it. De Botton is clever in his way of intertwining philosophy with every day stuggles. Pick this book up you will not be able to put it down.

Siggy

Not bad. You feel good at the end, but somehow the lessons don't quite seem to stick or fall short of really consoling a person with all the nuances of life. Its general, but I suppose the style makes it that way.

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