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4.4 out of 5 stars59
4.4 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 February 2011
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.
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on 20 May 2002
Alain de Botton invites readers to view travel in a different way. He pursues this end by breaking down a journey into five philosophical sub-journeys. He calls them, Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art and Return.
In doing so, Alain de Botton travels to places where centuries ago, the likes of Flaubert, van Gogh and Ruskin have set a permanent mark. He attempts to relate how the thinking of these men were affected by their travels and how they have redefined the notion of travel itself. In his journey, he recreates - sometimes literally - the environment that these men were once in, to help him obtain their perceptions toward his five sub-journeys.
From the very first chapter, Alain de Botton's writing managed to toss my mind between travel in the physical and philosophical sense. Alain de Botton has certainly managed to change the way I view my past, present and future travels. Now, travel is to me, something more intimate than going places.
Those who are not accustomed to philosophical writing might however find this book languid in shaping a plot. She/He might even be disappointed in the end, to find an absence of a plot. It is afterall, a 'guide' to travel. Nevertheless, the book's simple philosophical subjects, and Alain de Botton's sense of irony will keep the reader engaged.
This book certainly milks out every drop of value in travel.
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on 9 March 2015
This is a great little read. Plenty of thought provoking enquiry and exploration that makes the banal seem magical and the exotic obtainable. He makes some beautiful points and shares so many interesting ideas with us too. I especially loved the section on Edward Hopper. If you have never read him before then this is a great gateway read.
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on 13 May 2013
Alain de Botton never disappoints. His writing is always light as a feather, always amusing and always profound, and The art of travel is no exception. Philosophy for everyman (and woman). Buy, read, then enjoy this book - you really will.
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on 1 February 2007
The author's study on the art of traveling is divided into 5 parts: departure, motives, landscape, art and return. He starts by explaining that if our life is dominated by a search for happiness our travels reveal much about the dynamics of this quest. Taking J.K. Huysmans's hero in the novel A rebours, Des Esseintes, the author shows that some people are not fit for travels because their expectations are too high and their disappointments too great. Indeed valuable elements may be easier to experience in art and in anticipation than in reality since the imagination can provide a substitute for the common experience of travel.

Then the author moves to the longing to be elsewhere taking the example of Charles Baudelaire who despised living in France and often expressed the whish to go anywhere but to stay at home. With Edward Hopper we understand why traveling is often linked with a sense of melancholy as his paintings show. With Gustave Flaubert's travels we discover that the search for the exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home. With Alexander von Humboldt we realise what it actually meant to travel to South America in the 1800s and that the geographical and meteorological discoveries he made there were quite a sensation when he reported them upon his return to Europe. With William Wordsworth we understand how Nature, in the Lake District for example, which the author took to comprise birds, streams and plants, can be a corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by life in the city. Then Mr de Botton studies the profound impact the landscapes of Provence had on the painter Vincent Van Gogh. Painters and artists are involved in an explicit process, namely to choose what aspects of reality to include and what to leave out. In that sense they have to be keen observers, a fact pointed out by the painter John Ruskin.

With the help of a selection of writers, artists and thinkers, de Botton provides a valuable insight into everything from holiday romance to minibars, from airports to sightseeing.
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on 17 September 2007
Unlike De Botton, I'm seldom disappointed with my travels, but I share his curiosity about considering why we want to travel in the first place.

De Botton achieves this by reflections on the thoughts and experiences of other travellers, whether explorers, writers or other artists. What makes The Art of Travel particularly enjoyable is the realisation that many before have gone through the trials and rewards of travelling.

Perhaps not surprisingly, De Botton identifies more with the trials. But he is a fine writer, and even the perpetually happy traveller should read this book.
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on 1 September 2014
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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on 11 August 2015
I bought this as a leaving present for a colleague that said that you don't need to actually travel just read about places ?!?
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on 3 June 2015
A very good book on why we travel for 'fun', exploring the subject from both personal and historical view points. Anyone who travels, and by that I mean goes on holiday, should read this. Loses a bit of focus at the end, but the first two thirds of the book is well written and compulsive reading. However, bath time book[1] it ain't. I know I tried.

[1] Rated according to Arboreal Cephalopod's standard bath time book scale.
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VINE VOICEon 20 July 2002
I was reading The Art of Travel at the same time as it was declared in the newspapers that English tourists are the least wanted visitors around the world - on account of our coarse behaviour, linguistic apathy, parsimony and indifference to local culture. De Botton's work might, then, be seen as an emergency remedy to the pervasive 'Brit Abroad' attitude, a stereotype rapidly becoming truism as Ryan Air package holidays and Ibiza culture increase in popularity. Many of the major aspects of travel, such as feverish anticipation for things new, and the unnerving ease with which we become accustomed to foreign sights, are systematically re-explored by de Botton with the case histories of at least one famous thinker; a technique which works particularly well when the author tries to emulate the attitudes of those thinkers when visiting the same locations about which they had written. So, for example, we travel to Provence with Van Gogh as our guide, and see how he deliberately brought to life those aspects of the region he considered most quintessential, but which other more classical artists had ignored for stylistic reasons. We also sense Baudelaire's fascination with areas of departure - his poésie des salles d'attente, since they were symbolic of a dreamy Other, and thus much more than the functional, rather depressing places we instinctively associate with tedium.
Obviously this book has been strategically released at a time when the British public is once again scavenging for holiday literature, but one should avoid the temptation to brand it a rather shallow money-spinner, for it is more than this: as much as it is about how to get more out of an experience abroad, it is equally about how to reinvestigate domestic life through a new perspective. De Botton makes us turn back to thoughts that are rarely considered in depth despite their apparent simplicity: how much are our aesthetic dissatisfactions at home linked to a self-perpetuated monotony caused by regarding everything in the same mindset? Are photographs in a sense dangerous, since they seem to capture the essence of moments indefinitely, beguiling us into paying no more than a second's attention to things that enrapture us? Is our nationality really dictated by where we live?
If at times de Botton does seem to be playing the clownish sidekick to his chosen personalities, we should probably forgive him this: I see it less as an attempt to make the narrative comic than an unpretentious means of saying that philosophy is not all about highbrow abstraction, and genuinely does have applications in daily life (hence the author's practical experiments to sketch in the manner of Ruskin, or rediscover the aesthetic merit of his London surroundings, much like Xavier de Maistre did his bedroom). Moreover, there is much that is good about this book: the numerous paintings, photographs and sketches are necessary in evoking a sense of each place; the child-like amazement of de Botton beholding familiar things such as aircraft or mountains encourages a similar reappraisal of them in the reader; and the use of a wide variety of intellectuals - painters, writers, explorers - makes for interesting variety. This is a book, I would suggest, for those who have become accustomed to boredom despite their efforts to avoid this, or for those who have wanted to travel, but were never sure where or how to justify their going; although everyone is likely to gain at least some new perspective from it.
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