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The Consolations of Philosophy
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2002
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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.

These are the chapters and their respective thinkers - I've given you a tasty quote so you get the idea:

Unpopularity (Socrates)"It is not living that matters, but living rightly"

Not having enough money (Epicurus)"It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a pallet, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble"

Frustration (Seneca) "a gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials"

Inadequacy (Montaigne) "I care not so much what I am to others as what I am to myself"

A Broken Heart (Schopenhauer) "to live alone is the fate of all great souls"

Difficulties (Nietzsche) "that which does not kill us makes us stronger"
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80 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2003
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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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2002
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2010
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I enjoy de Botton's books for their breadth of reading and thinking, in which he applies philosophy to everyday life. I have also read his `Status anxiety', which is somewhat more original.

This book is a commentary and summary of the thoughts of six great philosophers, with a pleasantly quirky individualism from the author intruding. In addition to giving us the essence of their philosophies, he outlines what is known of their lives. The heavy sprinkling of illustrations is entertaining, and relevant to the text.

The six are:
Socrates - Consolation for unpopularity
Epicurus - Consolation for not having enough money
Seneca - Consolation for frustration
Montaigne - Consolation for inadequacy
Schopenhauer - Consolation for a broken heart
Nietzsche - Consolation for difficulties

This is not high-falutin' exegesis of difficult philosophy, but neither it is condescending or simplistic. The author strikes the right note (to my mind), with humour and sagacity. If you want a quick "bluffers guide" to these philosophers, I would recommend this book. De Botton himself has clearly done a deal of research to write these essays. He quotes extensively from the works, annotating the source of every single quotation from an astonishing wide range of books. He has done a lot of digesting for us. He has also travelled to several relevant sites, such as Montaigne's famous circular library.

I learned much from this book. For instance, I knew virtually nothing of Schopenhauer, but now I can place him in the history of thought. I read some Nietzsche at university, but could not grasp the overall point of what he was trying to say - now I think I have grasped the theme. It also inspired me to pick up another book which I have had on my shelves for 30 years - a Penguin edition selection of Montaigne's essays. He is probably the most worthwhile of these six to pursue further.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2005
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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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2008
The Consolations of Philosophy is a brief little book with lessons from famous philosophers. De Botton's idea is that the point of philosophy is to make us feel better. I'm sure that philosophy's purpose can entail much more than that, but it's a nice idea for a book nevertheless. It is divided into sections giving us brief descriptions of the theories of six philosophers. Beginning with Socrates and ending with Nietzsche, we are given consolation for unpopularity, not having enough money, frustration, inadequacy, a broken hearts and difficulties.

The tone is mostly that of a self-help book but I think that there is a little more to it than that. The short biographies of the philosophers are interesting in themselves. De Botton does a good job of bringing the different historical figures to life. This would be a good starting point were you to be interested in the history of philosophy. De Botton connects the philosophers together and explains a little about how they influenced or disagreed with each other. Bringing the philosophers to life in this way is important, as it is not just their teachings that are intended to help us, but also the examples they set in the way they lived their lives.

The book is jam packed with interesting pictures. Some of these are really helpful in helping us to understand the theories and how they apply to our lives. I particularly liked the graphs explaining Epicurus's ideas on happiness. There are however, far too many pictures. Sometimes they seem rather superfluous and annoying; I know what a remote control looks like, thank you.

The first two sections of the book are the best. The lessons De Botton takes from Socrates and Epicurus seem to me to be very pertinent. After that the book loses its way somewhat descending into a meandering account of how Montaigne can console us for various inadequacies. Still the book continues to be interesting and does get better again towards the end.

Overall I enjoyed this book. It has helped me and has had me reflecting on my own life through the lens of different philosophies.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 August 2011
Alain De Botton - Consolations of Phillosphy

Although the book may be a little watered down for anyone who has studied philosophy in detail, De Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy is a nice and easy introduction to some of the heavyweights of philosophy. The lives of the philosophers and what they believed in is summarise in a way that is easily understandable and instantly relevant by applying them to the common problems of today. Each chapter in the book introduces the philosopher, describes their life and in most cases their eventual demise and then goes on to summarise their beliefs on a particular subject.

Socrates is used to understand the need for being popular. One should not care about being disliked by the masses rather we should consider the logic behind their dislike and if we find it flawed it should be ignored. Since, "true respectability stems not from the will of the majority but from proper reasoning."

Epicurus on not having enough money, the things that we think make us happy (typically material) often don't rather this is borne from the "idle opinions of those around us, which do not reflect the natural hierarchy of our needs." According to Epicurus, it is possible to be happy with small sums of money, since happiness stems from meeting psychological needs: friends, freedom and reflection.

Seneca on frustration, frustration is the difference between our desires and reality and that if we temper our expectations (or just be realistic) we can reduce the effect by which the world can frustrate us, "best endure those frustrations which we have prepared ourselves for and understand."

Montaigne on inadequacy, we are better than we think we are. "If we attend properly to our experiences and learn to consider ourselves plausible candidates for an intellectual life, it is... open to all of us to arrive at insights no less profound than those in the great ancient books."

Schopenhauer on a broken heart, we are attracted to people because of this powerful desire to reproduce and this desire if rejected could and should lead to hurt "since without promising us the greatest happiness we could imagine" this force would not be powerful enough to draw us to act romantically in the first place.

Nietzsche on difficulties, to achieve a fulfilled life one must experience some degree of misery because "no one is able to produce a great work of art without experience, nor achieve a worldly position immediately... in the gap between who we wish to be one day and who we are present, must come pain, anxiety, envy and humiliation."

Anyone like myself who has not studied philosophy but has a natural curiosity, The Consolations of Philosophy is a nice, bite size starter, an easy and enjoyable read, a stepping stone to reading the source texts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 October 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2000
Alain de B was brought to my attention after seeing him savage various authors on the Booker Prize programme. He had a definite charisma and I went out and bought this book. It's fantastic. His writing is not as witty or luminous as he seemed in person. This wasn't a book which, like some viewers did, I thought was hilarious. It was serious stuff - but never pretentious. He takes 6 philosophers and looks at them in relation to various problems we all suffer today - not having enough money, feelings of failure, broken heart. In that respect, it's wonderful. Most philosophy books leave me cold or go over my head but this author seemed determined to welcome his readers in, make us feel at home, amuse us and entertain us, console us and stimulate us. What is also charming about the book is that occasionally (and more of this would be have even better) he mentions some of his own problems that he's suffered (eg brief sexual inadequacy) which certainly wins the readers over. Rather than being an oh-so-erudite professor above us all, he writes very much with a feeling of being 'one of us'. He puts abstract principles into practical use, with a relevance for everyone and everyday life. While it didn't 'change' my life after reading it and I felt he could taken his 'pursuit of happiness' argument a good deal further, it was oddly compelling. I also discovered that he has a website ... and like many readers I'm looking forwards to exploring it.
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