Review of The Consolations of Philosophy – Alain De Botton


After seeing and being mightily impressed with Alain De Botton at the Guardian Hay Festival (see my review) and his ability to engage with a crowd about philosophy in a digestible way, I decided to read his book ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’.

Previously Alain had released the novels Kiss and Tell, Essays in Love and The Romantic Movement, before dropping the storytelling model with How Proust can change your life. ADB has kept his faith in telling it how he sees it with The Consolations of Philosophy.

As someone who likes a challenging read from time to time I was a little sceptical about this book after reading that it was somewhat dumbed down philosophy. But then again I’ve always felt that the upper echelons of philosophical debate is afflicted with a tendency to turn said debate into an exercise in etymological prowess. The beauty of this book is De Botton cuts to the chase with excellent clarity of meaning mixing old thought with the anxieties of modern culture.

I enjoyed his unapologisingly negative opinion of Friedrich Nietzsche and his influence over Hitler’s anti-semitic ethos. His comparison of Socrates as an unpopular outcast who maintained his own beliefs gives the reader hope of triumph under adversity and his analysis of Seneca and how his heartbreak philosophy can help our own understanding of our own romantic anxieties was nostalgically thought provoking.

Looking back over time philosophical thought has stimulated and hence shaped the pinnacles of modern thought and spread to more people who in a previous age would never have had the opportunity to learn from the great thinkers. Yet many folks believe philosophy is only for the elite largely because they are still segregated by modern professors of thought who appear to surreptitiously hide away from trying to educate the masses like Alain De Botton is trying to do. Maybe it’s pretentiousness, maybe it’s arrogance or maybe they don’t want to stick their neck out for want of failing a popularity contest like Socrates.

Alain in my opinion is getting just rewards for his persistence, I highly recommend this book and I’m keen to see where his thoughts take him to next.