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The Art of Travel Audio Cassette – Audiobook, Unabridged
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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 the Paperback edition.
'Lucid, fluid, uplifting' Sunday Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product description
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Thought provoking and interesting use of both characters and illustrative examples, although a little wordy on some of the descriptive parts and it reads a little as if it was originally a series of lectures or separate articles.
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.
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?
I should say that this book is a bit different from the last couple de Botton has written. It's a lot more personal, and a lot more descriptive - which I think is a step forward. There's a lot of passages which aren't trying to tell you anything directly, they're just evoking the beauty or interest of places. So for example, de Botton writes some beautiful passages about the feeling of airports and diners, about the countryside, about the sky in Provence, about the streets in Hammersmith, West London, about Madrid. This means that what you end up with in this book is a combination of beautiful descriptions and thoughtprovoking ideas. Which is rare in travel books. Travel books often seem to be written by rather idea-free kind of people: they tell you about a place, but they don't stop to reflect on it. And that's what's good about The Art of Travel. My local bookshop had a poster accompanying the book that read: This summer, don't just work on your tan. Work on your mind. OK, it's a bit glib, but the book really is worth it.
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.
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