Thursday, September 4, 2014

In Which I Binge on Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton: This week I'm...
Alain de Botton
(this photo was published in The Telegraph 
but no photographer credit was given)

I have been binge-reading the writings of Alain de Botton. After re-reading The Art of Travel (which I wrote about here) and thanks to my public library and my Kindle I have downloaded and read four of his insightful books one right after the other. And I am working on number five with number six in the queue.

It has been quite a journey.

De Botton is a philosopher of everyday life. His books take a look at architecture, religion, literature, work, art, travel, the news. He asks the reader to reflect on the classic principles and lessons in these areas which have worked and can continue to work in our current lives. What do we want from this building, this book, this painting?  What can we learn from them? Are they doing us any good?

After this whirlwind of heady reading I feel as if I have had an entire four-year education. I am sure I am much smarter than I was when I began this affair.

In order, here are the subjects I have been exploring thanks to Alain de Botton:

The Architecture of Happiness (2006)
I read this in preparation for a weekend trip to Columbus, Indiana which is somewhat of an architectural mecca not an hour's drive north of me. Mr. de Botton's thoughts on how our buildings and spaces - their beauty or their soullessness - affect how we feel and thrive offered me a way to look at the halls and walls that I was viewing. 

Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion (2013)
I learned quite a lot about the ways that institutional religions have been successful in educating their practitioners, building communities, instilling guidelines to a moral life, and their acknowledgment of the value of spending quiet times on retreat. In this book, de Botton wonders how the secular world can make use of institutional religion's ways and wisdoms without accepting their 'supernatural' beliefs. 

The News: A User's Manual (2014)
Atlthough I don't spend much time with either printed or broadcast News, I appreciate his suggestion that there might just be a way of presenting the multitude of tragedies, natural disasters, crimes, political and world events in a format that enhances our lives instead of just scaring us or leaving us feeling uncaring. Even our focus on the lives of celebrities can be useful if only we were shown lives that were thoughtful and well-lived. Think Socrates instead of Paris Hilton.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009)
This is my favorite after The Art of Travel. Mr. de Botton examines the lives of modern workers.  He stands with the guy on the tuna boat (guaranteeing you will never eat tuna again), hangs out with a skyscraper full of accountants, visits a convention for inventors, talks with an artist who has painted the same tree over and over in season after season, and walks along with an inspector in the land of giant electric pylons noting their strange beauty. Fascinating.

How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel (1997)
I am currently reading this and, as always with Mr. de Botton, I am learning more than his titles suggest. He examines the French author's maddening and brilliant ways and ideas and gives us suggestions on how we might benefit from his life and writings. Chapter titles include How to Suffer Successfully, How to Take Your Time, How to Read for Yourself, and How to Be a Friend. A delight.

On the top of my reading pile:

The Consolations of Philosophy (2000)
Having exhausted the library's e-book collection of Mr. de Botton's works, I got hold of a solid copy of this book which offers solutions to modern day problems through philosophers such as Socrates, Seneca, and Montaigne.  

I find Alain de Botton to be a wonderful companion. He has a sly wit, a comfortable style, and an attention to odd details that I so enjoy. I like the way he uses photos to illustrate the text in his books. He can write a list of dazzling and surprising examples like no other. He makes me Think.

I don't believe I have ever just read one book after another by any other author in this marathon-like way. And to my everlasting delight, I find that there are many videos available, including two of his TED Talks and various documentaries based on his books, on his website ( 

To my chagrin, I find that he was in Louisville in March as guest on the Kentucky Author Forum and I totally missed him. Fortunately, though, that interview is available online as well here and I was able to see and listen to him up close.

I still have at least two more books of his that I want to read: Art as Therapy and A Week at the Airport. Binge, binge, binge.


  1. What a great post! You're the one who pointed me in de Botton's direction with the fabulous The Art of Travel. I have The Architecture of Happiness waiting for me at the library and can't wait to read that and all the rest. Isn't it infuriating when you miss the local appearance of an author you love?! Thanks for including the links to the videos.

    1. Thanks, Joan. I learned a lot from "The Architecture of Happiness" and am loving de Botton's book on Proust. I hope you will read his book on ""Work. It really is quite fascinating. And very slyly amusing.

  2. What a fascinating breadth of work for one author. I imagine he has a most curious and seeking mind. I have yet to read one of his books, but he is high up on my TBR list. I absolutely love authors who can teach in an interesting fashion. Can't wait to start bingeing on his work myself!

    1. Kathy, Alain de Botton certainly does touch on so many subjects that interest me. I would begin with 'The Art of Travel', then on to 'The Sorrows and Pleasures of Work'. Just the title of that one amuses me! He is quite the pleasant companion. Like I said, his books are an entire education in themselves. I think you will enjoy reading them.

  3. Heavens, these sound wonderful! I really must read these. Funny how you can know about an author for eyars and somehow never pick up his work. Thanks for this post, so now I'll make the effort.

  4. Kat, I am quite taken with Mr. de Botton, as you can tell. I am actually on a small getaway this week in Myrtle Beach and reading his "Consolations of Philosophy". Not everyone's choice for beach reading, I'm sure.