63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Travel will never be the same again
Travel is one of those things that you're supposed to be born knowing how to do. After all, it looks fairly easy, doesn't it. It's just a case of buying a ticket, boarding a plane etc.
But of course, it's typical of our materialistic culture that we only ever look at the practical obstacles or means of doing things - and ignore the psychological ones. So we never ask...
Published on 14 Jun 2002 by Angad Gupta
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not De Botton's best...
I've been a big fan of Alain De Botton ever since I read "Status Anxiety", which happens to be one of my favourite books ever. I've since been working my way through his other work and gave this a go after stumbling across it in a charity shop.
De Botton's initial intentions are clear - to unravel the mysteries that surround the human need and wish to travel...
Published on 17 May 2010 by Mr. N. EVANS
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ultimate travel companion,
Excellent book, which I took with me on travels & have read several times. Love this man's work & find it a joy to dip back into it and his others at various stages.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!,
A very interesting book -would make a great gift for a traveller. Fascinating insights to what can go wrong when we go on a trip full of expectations.
4.0 out of 5 stars More a guide on examining our motives for travelling than a how to of travel,
If you have purchased this book with the intention of becoming a better traveller, you are likely to turn away disappointed. Where the author does score admirably, though, is in examining some of our motivations for travelling, and preparing us for the eventual disappointments ahead.
This is not to say that the book takes a negative view of travel - just a slightly more balanced one than what most people start out with. The author then attempts to guide us through the travel experience via five chapters - Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art, Return - all intertwined with travel experiences of famous artists and explorers of the past. This certainly provides a good background story and if you are not turned off by de Botton's often verbose and somewhat too complicated way of expressing himself there is enjoyment to be had.
His conclusion (derived from some of the characters he uses to illustrate the story) that the mindset is more important than the destination is certainly something I can identify with. It also allows you - in case you use this mindset when planning your travels - to at least moderate the possibility of eventual disappointment that most places are bound to throw up at some point.
Not having read the author's other works yet I cannot judge where this one fits in quality wise but it is certainly a useful tool for reflection and might provide you with a more realistic mindset for travelling, even if it will not furnish you with specific tools. Just make sure you do not take some chapters too seriously, or you will never expand your travels beyond the bedroom, or travel shows on the TV.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great ideas,
I purchased this book not on the grounds of it's philosophical side. This is something I love about the book, as Alain de Botton allows you an almost "on the fence" way of thinking of the world of travel, using his own experiences and sometimes comparing and using past writers work also.
For anyone iterested on travel and how you feel of think of or about travel should give this a go.
4.0 out of 5 stars 'The journey is better than the arrival',
Fascinating book taking a philisophical look at why we like to travel or why we think we like to travel ,and in some cases why the anticipation of travel is often more pleasing than the experience itself ,well worth a read if you want to take the pleasure out of your holidays [joke].
28 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Purple, banal and ultimately boring,
I opened this book in pleasurable anticipation of a good read but almost from the first line became irritated by De Botton's use of similes and adjectives, many of which border on the absurd. The decline of winter is `like that of a person into old age'. Cloudless skies are likened to `signs of recovery in a patient upon whom death has passed sentence'. A steely grey sky has - of course - to be `ominous'. But not just ominous: it has to be `like one in a painting by Mantegna or Veronese, the perfect backdrop to the crucifixion of Christ or to a day beneath the bedclothes.' and so it goes on. At times I was reminded of the laboured similes in a Rowan Atkinson comedy. Page 17 is a prime example of De Botton's laboured, Victorian style and deserves a lengthy quotation:
`Awakening early on that first morning, I slipped on a dressing gown provided by the hotel and went out onto the veranda. In the dawn light the sky was a pale grey-blue and, after the rustlings of the night before, all the creatures and even the wind seemed in a deep sleep. It was as quiet as a library. Beyond the hotel room stretched a wide beach which was covered at first with coconut trees and then slipped unhindered towards the sea. I climbed over the veranda's low railing and walked across the sand. Nature was at her most benevolent. It was as if, in creating this small horseshoe bay, she had chosen to atone for her ill-temper in other regions and decided for once to display only her munificence. The trees provided shade and milk, the floor of the sea was lined with shells, the sand was powdery and the colour of sun ripened wheat, and the air - even in the shade - had an enveloping, profound warmth to it so unlike the fragility of northern European heat, always prone to cede, even in midsummer, to a more assertive, proprietary chill.
`I found a deck chair at the edge of the sea. I could hear small lapping sands beside me, as if a kindly monster taking discreet sips of water from a large goblet. A few birds were waking up and beginning to career through the air in matinal excitement. Behind me, the raffia roofs of the hotel bungalows were visible through gaps in the trees. Before me was the view that I recognized from the brochure: the beach stretched away in a gentle curve towards the tip of the bay, behind it were jungle-covered hills, and the first row of coconut trees inclined irregularly towards the turquoise sea, as though some of them were craning their necks to catch a better angle of the sun.
`Yet this description only imperfectly reflects what occurred within me that morning, for my attention was in truth far more fractured and confused than the foregoing paragraphs suggest. I may have noticed a few birds careering through the air in matinal excitement, but my awareness of them was weakened by a number of other, incongruous and unrelated elements, among these a sore throat that I had developed during the flight, a worry at not having informed a colleague that I would be away, pressure across both temples and a rising need to visit the bathroom. A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making its first appearance: that I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.'
De Botton never loses an opportunity to demonstrate how much he or his quasi-anonymous companion `M' has read. While a single cloud hangs `shyly' above the bay, the mysterious `M' (is she head of MI6?) puts on her headphones and begins annotating Emile Durkheim's On Suicide. She would.
The author's idea of travel seems to consist in boarding planes, catching trains, filling up at gas stations and hiring cars. He seems to have a horror of engaging with the real world of people and chatter and tears and sweat, as opposed to the worlds of art and literature and posy criticism. His is the infuriating voice of the tour guide that gets between you and a work of art, the voice that tells you what to think, the voice that prevents you making up your own mind about the works of Hopper or Van Gogh or Wordsworth or Ruskin.
The book is little more than a hotch-potch of regurgitated university lecture notes interspersed by some very amateurish attempts at descriptive writing. `A black-eared wheatear is looking pensive on a conifer branch ... humans and sheep stare at one another in wonder. After a moment the sheep sits down and takes a lazy mouthful of grass, chewing from the side of her mouth as though it was gum ... Another sheep approaches and lies next to her companion, wool-to-wool, and for a second they exchange what appears to be a knowing, mildly amused glance.'
Here's some more, and I promise that this will be the last example of the purple slush you will have to wade through when (or if) you read this book:
`The rain, which continued to fall confidently despite the promises of the landlord, gave us a sense of the mass of the oaks. From under their damp canopy, rain could be heard falling on 40,000 leaves, creating a harmonious pitter-patter, varying in pitch according to where the water dripped on to a large or a small leaf, a high or a low one, one loaded with accumulated water or not...'
De Botton does not teach us how to travel so much as how not to travel. He stops the hire car to look at an olive orchard but he can't be bothered to get out of the car and walk through it. He reads a brochure in a Madrid hotel, but is too timid to go out and rub shoulders with the locals in one of that city's many wonderful restaurants, preferring to dine on a bag of crisps in his bedroom, flicking over the pages of travel brochures.
In his section on Ruskin, De Botton demonstrates a fundamental misconception about art, which he seems to think can be reduced to words on paper. As a graduate of the University of Cambridge he seems to have a pretty impoverished knowledge of aesthetics. Has he never read Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation? Has he never read Isaiah Berlin's The Roots of Romanticism? Has he never attended to Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations or appreciated that abstracts (like `beauty') cannot be objectivised, let alone searched for?
De Botton is not a traveller; he is a package tourist, and not a very adventurous or imaginative one. He's the guy who asks the tour guide the question to which he already knows the answer. Can you imagine Bruce Chatwin describing clouds as seen from an aircraft window? That's what De Botton does. Can you imagine T.E. Lawrence comparing a view of the desert with what he saw in a travel guide? Can you imagine Hilaire Belloc sitting in his hotel room eating a bag of crisps instead of mixing with the locals? Or Turner staying inside because there was a nasty storm outside and he didn't want to get wet?
There were moments when I felt so impatient with the banalities of The Art of Travel that I felt like flinging the book across the room. The impression I came away with was that De Botton sees art not as an end in itself but as a means to an end. Through art, he can become an `expert', and as an expert he will be able to publish books, figure in television documentaries, become a celebrity and make lots of money. Art for art's sake? Travel to travel sake? Forget it: anything and everything De Botton sees he has to analyse to death.
But it is not only the banality, the purple patches and neo-Victorian writing that mar The Art of Travel: it lacks direction and unity. To the last page, I could never make up my mind whether it was about art or travel. Lifting pictures of art works from the Internet and printing them in black and white - or in this case grey and grey - simply didn't work for me. I looked at them, but only because I felt I had to. I felt they were an insult to the great artists who painted the originals.
De Botton has achieved what I would previously have thought impossible: he has managed to make art and nature boring. Even from a purely academic point of view, the book is pretty well useless as it has no bibliography. That's unforgivable.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a perfect beach read,
A dip of the toe into philosophy via art, literature and Expedia. De Botton has a knack of making his readers feel clever, regardless of whether or not you have any prior knowledge of the works of art being referenced in each chapter. Which is a very clever thing to be able to do. His observations are largely common sense and entirely understandable (beginning with the premise that when you travel, you unavoidably take with you the thing that you may most wish to leave behind - yourself). His style of writing is endearing; descriptive, funny and frank. It's not a book to change your life, but it is a wholly appropriate and very pleasurable beach read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A world tour through the humanities,
This book is superb. One of those that you read and then go back to, picking out your favourite sections. The title is a bit cryptic, it really is a journey through the arts subjects: history, art history, philosophy, architecture, religous studies, literature in English. Each subject contextualised in terms of a journey. Hugely thought provoking and stimulating you to go and find out more about each subject. I'm off now to find a book about Alexander von Humboldt - my favourite bit of the book. And the bit on Edward Hopper. And ...
5.0 out of 5 stars What a great book,
This book offers some crisp, clear thoughts from a paricularly intelligent person; written in a simple and often amusing way.
I will definitely read more of Alain's work.
5.0 out of 5 stars If you have ever been in an airport you should read this! Amazing!,
Alan de Botton has a rare ability to delve deep into the mundane and open a veritable positive pandoras box of possibillities. Absolutely adored this book!
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The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (Audio Cassette - 2 May 2002)
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