The Art of Travel Paperback – 29 May 2003
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The urge to be somewhere else is one of the abiding traits of human nature; in The Art of Travel author Alain de Botton (The Consolations of Philosophy, How Proust Can Change Your Life) sets out to discover why in his own inimitably witty and discursive way.
Of course, the proximate reasons we travel are many and various: as de Botton explains. Using the travel experiences of great writers and artists, like Van Gogh, Ruskin, Huysmans and Wordsworth (in Provence, Venice, Belgium and the Lake District respectively), de Botton shows that men will travel to see beautiful buildings, or climb beautiful mountains, or make love to beautiful (and comparatively amoral) women. But, using the same artists, de Botton also shows that there is an underlying theme to all travel: the urge for difference, for the rhapsody of change. That this is an urge more often disappointed than gratified only makes the condition more poignant. One of de Botton's best chapters, on Flaubert, amplifies this tragicomic point: the French novelist spent enervating years in genteel Normandy longing for the sensual splendours of Egypt, then, when he finally reached the pyramids, he promptly lapsed into maudlin nostalgia for rainy, bourgeois Rouen.
If there are flaws in this, de Botton's latest and perhaps most readable book, they are the usual suspects: just occasionally the author comes across as a bit long-winded and self-regarding. However, this is such a pleasant and effortless read even these flaws can be taken as endearing characteristics--like the lizards who kip in the bath in your otherwise idyllic holiday villa.--Sean Thomas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'Lucid, fluid, uplifting' Sunday TimesSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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 how we can be happy on our travels, we just head off on them - and then wonder what might have gone wrong once we're on the Acropolis in baking heat, thinking, Why aren't I at home?!
All of which makes Alain de Botton's book particularly refreshing, as ever (for readers new to this man's work, also check out Essays in love, How Proust can change your life and The Consolations of Philosophy). De Botton looks at travel from a philosophical angle - not in the strict philosophical way that you might find in a university (the last review shows why academics should get out a little more!). Rather, he just starts to think deeply and well about some of the big issues of travel - like: what's the difference between anticipating a place and actually getting there, why do we find some countries exotic, how can we be curious about the places we see, why is it nice to go into the countryside.
What I love about de Botton's writing is that he's never shy to ask the big naive questions that all the highbrows think they know the answer to already (without actually ever discussing them), while the lowbrows are too frightened to ask.
This book is also beautifully illustrated and put together. This might seem like a superficial point, but actually, in all of de Botton's work, there's a real emphasis on visual. Why not mix words and images, the author seems to be saying; magazines do it all the time, why not serious books then?Read more ›
To illustrate this, he intertwines his own travel experiences with those of several famous European writers and artists in order to highlight his points. Although the book is divided into five distinct sections (Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art, Return), these each have various subsections and sub-subsections, making the structure is more haphazard than his previous nonfiction. Some of these sections work better than others, a particularly weak one is the examination of Flaubert in Egypt and exoticism. He takes Flaubert's self-professed kinship with the "unwashed masses" of Egypt at face value, failing to acknowledge any of the inherent power dynamics in this, or indeed any Western tourist's visit to the third world. Rather he is content to point out the self-evident fact that the lure of the exotic has always been a powerful motivator for travel.Read more ›
I shall give a copy to my daughter who also travels, confident that it will give her as much pleasure as it has given to me.
De Botton's initial intentions are clear - to unravel the mysteries that surround the human need and wish to travel and see the world, and for the mostpart he is succesful. However, unlike other De Botton books that I have read, there were times when it became somewhat of a chore to read.
The layout of each chapter tends to be quite samey - and you sometimes get the feeling that you've only scratched the surface of what is clearly a vast subject.
Saying that, it is worth sticking with, due to the philosphical gems and ideas that one tends to encounter when reading books of this nature. The urge to travel and explore is something that we take at face value and never really examine, so it was interesting to look at travel through the eyes of the worlds great writers, poets and artists, as well as De Botton himself.
Overall - very glad that I read it and managed to extract some interesting viewpoints and ideas from it, but on the other hand, I'm also glad I've finished it so that I can move on to my next read, which will hopefully be slightly more engrossing.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I bought this as a leaving present for a colleague that said that you don't need to actually travel just read about places ?!?Published 11 months ago by MW
A very good book on why we travel for 'fun', exploring the subject from both personal and historical view points. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Arboreal Cephalopod
Perhaps it was the subject matter but although I really enjoy Alain de Bottons writings this was not my favorite. Still a good read though.Published 14 months ago by Mark Docker