How to Deal with Adversity (The School of Life) Paperback – 2 Jan 2014
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This new series of The School of Life's self-help books build on the strengths of the first, tackling some of the hardest issues of our lives in a way that is genuinely informative, helpful and consoling. Here are books that prove that the term "self-help" doesn't have to be either shallow or naive (Alain de Botton, Founder of The School of Life)
The School of Life offers radical ways to help us raid the treasure trove of human knowledge (Independent on Sunday)
What to do when faced with adversity and how to derive meaning from itSee all Product description
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So as I stood in the book shop with How to Thrive in Digital Age and this one, How to Deal With Adversity I joked to myself I was clearly after a blue cover and nothing more. I brought this one and as I opened it at the train station I knew I had picked the one I needed most of all. The first thing to struggle with is the title, it's weird, it implies drama - and I spent a lot of the first part of the journey trying to hide the cover so no one would think I was 'one of those' not having a good time and seeking attention. In reality there was nothing especially wrong with my life, actually I was quite happy, so I was worried about being judged for it (silly I know). The book covers four topics you can have particularity devastating adversity with: Ambivalence in the Family, Incomprehension in Love, Vulnerability in the Body and Dissolution in Dying. If you relate to any of those adjectives in those titles I can already promise this book is for you.
Through each chapter Hamilton is a calm, unbiased clear and wonderfully well read source of reason. Never biased or opinionated, scholarly clarity and relevant personal anecdotes are the ultimate companions here. Clearly referring back to some longstanding School of Life Heroes; Kafka, Sartre, Proust and Tolstoy, a previous knowledge of these authors is not at all required however, Hamilton's accompanying introduction to their works is perfectly concise and clear. Of particular note to me is his reference to the deeply humbling works of Primo Levi - Hamilton's take on whom I had never previously considered despite studying Levi at University.
I could say a lot about each of these chapters. I enjoyed all but of course Love - which also covers Friendship, was something I had not anticipated and benefitted deeply from. I have spent the majority of my life single through choice, and found more help for the demons I didn't even realise I had. There are many points and arguments for and against in this book, but one quote which deeply touched me was when Hamilton commented on Sartre's War Diaries:
"...you will run the risk of destruction if you live like this, but if you can see unrequited love or disappointment in love as a window onto the varieties of human experience, and to that extent as something to be welcomed, you will learn something valuable about yourself and about life, and that itself will help make sense of the pain."
Moreover and more deeply for me, was the chapter on death. 'Dissolution' is an interesting concept, but my Mum died suddenly when I was 20, before my angry rebellious years were over and before I could tell her even a fraction of what I would now. I don't dwell on this particularity, people die all the time and she had problems with her joints which had caused a great deal of discomfort all her life. Although I spent the entirety of my following academic years using every resource to read about death, mortality and bodily frailty to help myself make sense of this loss. I would describe Hamilton's discussion on dissolution as the missing link in my research, and absolutely essential reading to anyone who has their own reasons for considering the frailty of human existence more than they would say out loud. Hamilton is truly Gandalfian in his sage advice on this topic, and truly you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you are facing these questions - especially if you don't have anyone to talk to about them, if you don't read this.
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