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The Consolations of Philosophy [Paperback]

Alain de Botton
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 2001

The Consolations of Philosophy is Alain de Botton's internationally bestselling guide to life.

Alain de Botton, bestselling author of How Proust Can Change Your Life, has set six of the finest minds in the history of philosophy to work on the problems of everyday life. Here then are Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on some of the things that bother us all: lack of money, the pain of love, inadequacy, anxiety; the fear of failure and the pressure to conform.

'Singlehandedly, de Botton has taken philosophy back to its simplest and most important purpose: helping us live our lives' Independent

'No doubt about it, philosophy is the new rock and roll and Alain de Botton is its Colonel Tom Parker . . . A pleasure to read. And good writing, like good philosophy, is always a consolation' John Banville, Irish Times

'Few discussions on the great philosophers can have been so entertaining . . . an ingenious, imaginative book' Humphrey Carpenter, Sunday Times

'Witty, thoughtful, entertaining . . . a stylish book, which manages to make philosophy both enjoyable and relevant' Anthony Clare, Literary Review

'Gentle, helpful and humane . . . De Botton's instinct is surely right: if we are to bring philosophy to life we should look again at those thinkers who have sought to be not clever or paradoxical, but simply wise' Roger Scruton, Mail on Sunday

Alain de Botton's bestselling books include The News, Religion for Atheists, How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work and The Architecture of Happiness. He lives in London and founded The School of Life ( and Living Architecture ( For more information, consult

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Re-issue edition (1 Mar 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140276610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140276619
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 12.5 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alain de Botton is the author of Essays in Love (1993), The Romantic Movement (1994), Kiss and Tell (1995), How Proust can Change your Life (1997), The Consolations of Philosophy (2000) The Art of Travel (2002), Status Anxiety (2004) and most recently, The Architecture of Happiness (2006).

Product Description

Amazon Review

Flushed with the success of How Proust Can Change Your Life, philosophical agony uncle Alain de Botton once more matches his precocious talents to addressing the anxieties of modern life with Consolations of Philosophy. Dubbed the "Naked Philosopher", de Botton's cherubic charms match his grey matter, and this book, which has already inspired a Channel 4 series, sees him continue his one-man mission to sugar the pill of learning with his brilliant mixture of wit, wisdom and whimsy. So humans have six gurus and six concerns: Socrates on unpopularity, Epicurus on lack of money, Seneca on frustrations, Montaigne on inadequacy, Schopenhauer on a broken heart and Nietzsche on the necessity of difficulties. And then there is a seventh: de Botton himself, artfully infusing others' palliative musings with souffléd epigrams of his own, and marshalling his arguments with an insouciance that belies considerable skill. De Botton was already appealing to the likes of Wittgenstein, Aristotle and Montaigne for romantic guidance in his novels, Kiss and Tell, Essays in Love and The Romantic Movement, and with How Proust Can Change Your Life, he finally dropped the pretence of plot and concentrated on the digressions, albeit with a slightly eager charm. Where that book was dazzling, the glow of Consolations of Philosophy burns more deeply, displaying a more sober and polished application of his undoubted mental prowess, without losing his distinctive playfulness. He brings to the essay form something of what Milan Kundera brings to the novel and, like him, while still respecting the boundaries he oversteps, he hopscotches genres with spring heels. It is Montaigne whom de Botton most admires and, indeed, most resembles in style--he says of the 16th-century Frenchman: "in Montaigne's scheme of intelligence, what matters in a book is usefulness and appropriateness to life" and it's a recipe he himself assiduously and rewardingly follows. Jamie Oliver take note, dry crusts have rarely been made so appetising and digestible. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Alain de Botton's (henceforth, 'Alain') opus minimus has achieved three remarkable things. It has made philosophy popular, it has made philosophy fashionable, and, most remarkable of all, it is not completely awful. The book, as everyone by now must know (after the TV series, which evidently precedes and creates the book), is a series of vignettes - 'episodes' - in which Alain ponders how a select few, fairly ancient, philosophers, might address a few key personal problems. Being unpopular, being poor, being unloved, and so on.

Not on the face of it, a particularly clever idea. But then, no one else seems to have thought of doing it, so Alain must have what in Internet terms is called 'first mover' advantage. His book may not be all that good, and doubtless will spawn a batch of hopping, croaking competitors, but it is unlikely to be overshadowed.

And actually, at least by the standards of philosophy books, it is very readable. The usual deathless philosowaffle that characterises ango-american philosophy has been ruthlessly pared to a minimum, making room for the an eclectic and, it must be said, frequently irritatingly banal, series of pictures of chocolate milk and old-paintings-with-a-philosophical-flavour. But, at least the book has 'narrative flow'. Indeed, it has some style.

How good is the philosophy? I read the chapter on Nietzsche with interest. Alain deals with the suggestion that Nietzsche was in fact a very nasty bit of work (he wanted most people to suffer and die so that they could contribute to the amusement of an elite - which would consist only of men, women being an inferior species) is swiftly disposed of by attributing all the nasty bits in Nietzsche's writings to (implausibly) his sister. A picture of whom, greeting a Mr Hitler is interposed in to the text to underline the point.

Socrates is portrayed as a noble creature misunderstood by his contemporaries, and piquantly made to drink hemlock. The moral, Alain explains, is not that it is important to be popular, but it is important to be right. In fact, Alain suggests, to be logical.

Now this is overstating the logic of Socrates' own approach. Aristotle maybe, would have appreciated this epitaph. But Socrates is above all, a romantic, who believes in 'the power of the Good'. Happily, Alain comes back to this question later in the book, and redresses the balance. Indeed, frequently, the philosophers are produced, made to put forward a firm position, only for the contrary assumptions to reappear in later chapters.

But then, the attention span of a TV viewer is only ten minutes, and that is the origin of this particular work. it may be weak, platitudinous and intellectually pompous, but it is also a very good read. -- Martin Cohen in 'The Philosopher', Online edition, April 2000 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely consolation 3 April 2002
By A Customer
Alain De Botton enlists the collective wisdom of six philosophers, from the ancients to the 19th Century, and reflects on maladies such as frustration, a broken heart and not having enough money. What a timely work! Through this examination, De Botton is able to shed light on the whys and wherefores of 'pain' and submit the wisdom of those who have gone before us.
Socrates advises us on thriving despite unpopularity; Epicurus reassures us that it is all right to not have enough money; Seneca enlightens us on the cure for frustration; Montaigne consoles us for feeling inadequate; Schopenhauer heals our broken hearts; and Nietzsche helps us overcome our difficulties.
De Botton is an entertaining and enlightening writer. He seems to know just what it is that worries the human being and interprets these philosophers for us mortals. He has a gentle and insightful wit and a strong sense of irony.
This book is highly recommended for those who love wisdom (the true 'philo-sophia') and the search for answers.
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78 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars thumbs up 31 July 2003
By A Customer
I was interested in this book because I had recently gained a degree in philosophy. I do, to some extent understand the criticism that de Botton has over-simplified certain topics. However the point of the book (I think) was to highlight just how relevant philosophy is to EVERYBODY and not just the high minded and somewhat elitist academics. De Botton makes philosophy not only much more accessable and relevant but he does so with humour and compassion. I've yet to read any other general philosophy text that was so suitable for a wide audience. Well done!
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy made easy! 14 Jan 2002
By Ame
This book is an excellent introduction to philosophy. I have always been put off reading philosophy books as they are over-complicated and irrelevant to everyday life. This book, however, is easy to read and difficult to put down. It brings the philosophers' theories down to a very basic level that anyone can grasp, and then applies them to common problems that people face: unpopularity (Socrates); not having enough money (Epicurus); frustration (Seneca); inadequacy (Montaigne); broken heart (Schopenhauer); and difficulties (Nietzsche). Now I know the basic philosophies of these men, I am going to read more about them from the books recommended in the bibliography at the back of the book. An excellent read!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very short introduction to wisdom 3 July 2013
By Adam Finn TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There is something rather special about us humans. We have a disposition for enquiry; to look closer, further and deeper. We seek to understand more and answer the questions that the cosmos presents us. But then we must understand our limits. How do we progress gracefully and curb our enthusiasm?

The temptation is to know everything but sometimes its just a darn sight easier to listen to those who know more - and even though it seems the populate is being dumbed down by the pressures of capitalism and materialism the fortunate thing is that in order to sell books most of the educational material is being dumbed down to suit.

I'm not taking anything away from this book, this is just a fatuous tongue-in-cheek moment.

Alain De Botton knows his onions. And he's here to help. But remember Alain is just paraphrasing and is drawing from the classics. Soppy self-help fads like this are also plagiarised. Unfortunately it is a sign of the times that most of our answers have been found before and conveyed more lucidly.

Enough of the reality check because in fairness to Alain this is a truly remarkable book. This is a very short introduction / dummies guide to some of the best thinkers that have come before us, and specifically the wisdom they gained through their philosophising.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice intro to the application of philosophy 13 Aug 2005
By McBoab
To appreciate this book I think you need to be in the right frame of mind - relaxed, motivated, analytical and receptive. I have enjoyed it and discovered much resonance. It is nicely structured with quirky illustrations. The only criticism I have is that there is no formal bibligraphy, although references are included in a seven-page notes section. For the layperson (like me) it provides a simple yet effective introduction into the world of philosophy which, hitherto, I have avoided. A book to keep and, possibly, return to.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How philosophy helps us in our life 28 Oct 2007
The author shows how philosophy supplied Socrates with convictions in which he was able to have rational confidence when faced with adversity. In Socrates' time, the opinion of the majority was equated with truth. He thus suffered the sad fate to be good and yet judged evil. We should therefore strive to listen to the dictates of the reason and not the dictates of public opinion.
The philosophy of Epicures places an emphasis on the importance of sexual pleasure and he promises that philosophy will guide us to superior cures and true happiness. Friendship and freedom are the two most important items on the Epicurean acquisition list.
Seneca conceived of philosophy as a discipline to assist human beings in overcoming conflicts between their wishes and reality. He saw that we must reconcile ourselves to the necessary imperfectability of existence. We will cease to be angry once we cease to be too hopeful.
Cicero claims that scholarship furnishes us with true means of living well and happily, to spend our lives without discontent and without vexation.
Montaigne saw that we have to accept our body with all its flaws: it smells, aches, ages, throbs and pulses.
Booksellers are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the number of books that were written because authors couldn't find anyone to talk to. Actually every difficult work presents us with the choice whether to judge the author inept for not being clear, or ourselves stupid for not understanding the ideas.
For Schopenhauer, a man of genius can hardly be sociable, for what dialogues could indeed be so intelligent and entertaining as his own monologues? For him, art and philosophy help us to turn pain into knowledge. "The prudent man strives for freedom from pain, not pleasure."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 12 days ago by Mike Arch
5.0 out of 5 stars Recomended
Excellant overview of philosophy, an informative and easy read.
Published 1 month ago by Anja Convey
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy
Standard book but not standard content.
Very interesting and approaches the everyday life with not so everyday philosophy.
Good quality and came safe and sound. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Danielle
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Communication
I feel compelled to give this audio book the strongest recommendation possible. I just sat in the worst traffic ever back from Dorking to Dorset, and yet had one of the best... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mr. N. A. McKee
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy need not be dull and difficult
very readable; gives interesting background to each philosopher; links philosophy to the problems of everyday life. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Michael H
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Excellent
Why we all still believe that philosophy is something most of us will never get our heads round, is rarefied and only for the select few to understand, I will never know. Read more
Published 7 months ago by James M-C
4.0 out of 5 stars Skimming the surface nicely
It's all in the title really. A really easy read. The author ties some quotes together and then asserts them to the philosophers own life stories as an example of how to follow... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Gareth
5.0 out of 5 stars Just great
The use of philosophical meanderings to open the mind to the ruts we can all fall into is quite inspired. The choice of material is well rounded and not at all preachy. Read more
Published 9 months ago by R. Mcauley
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy for anyone.
I really like the way Alain de Botton writes, very easy to follow but so thoughtful and nicely designed book.
Published 9 months ago by Ms. Mary Fletcher
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexamined life is not worth living.
What a set of ideas, no sooner had you agreed with one chapter, pronouncing it wise, insightful and definitely what you now 'think', then he brings in new philosophy at odds with... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Harry Martin
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