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VINE VOICEon 14 March 2008
As you would expect from de Botton, this is highly accessible, funny and enlightening.

The way this book works best is to inspire your interest in certain other philosophers. Compare the ideas of some key thinkers, see which one chimes with you and go and buy their works too. De Botton necessarily just scrapes the surface of those he covers, but that's not to devalue what he has to say and his ability to pick out the pertinent points and explain them clearly.

As a result of de Botton's books I have developed a passion for Montaigne's amazing works, an appreciation of Proust and a sneaking admiration for the chilled out Epicurus!

This is a fantastic book in its own right, but as a readable introduction to the greats, it excels.
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on 16 March 2017
Wonderful introduction into six big names in philosophy. I love this book and have bought it several times and given as gifts. Also have the audio, and revisit it regularly. Especially loved the Seneca, Epicurus and, most of all, the Montaigne chapters. Great book and solid advice contained within.
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on 5 July 2005
I loved this book. Having struggled through many a weighty tome to try to understand what the great DWEMs (Dead White European Males) had to say, I usually got frustrated and basically gave up. This book is different, it explains the essence of Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca Montaigne etc and translates what their respective thinking means to modern life. If you want to be a pseud and name drop socially don't read this book. BUT if you want a practical guide to living your life, being content with the irritations in your life and just being happy READ
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on 3 April 2002
Alain De Botton enlists the collective wisdom of six philosophers, from the ancients to the 19th Century, and reflects on maladies such as frustration, a broken heart and not having enough money. What a timely work! Through this examination, De Botton is able to shed light on the whys and wherefores of 'pain' and submit the wisdom of those who have gone before us.
Socrates advises us on thriving despite unpopularity; Epicurus reassures us that it is all right to not have enough money; Seneca enlightens us on the cure for frustration; Montaigne consoles us for feeling inadequate; Schopenhauer heals our broken hearts; and Nietzsche helps us overcome our difficulties.
De Botton is an entertaining and enlightening writer. He seems to know just what it is that worries the human being and interprets these philosophers for us mortals. He has a gentle and insightful wit and a strong sense of irony.
This book is highly recommended for those who love wisdom (the true 'philo-sophia') and the search for answers.
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on 27 November 2008
The Consolations of Philosophy is a brief little book with lessons from famous philosophers. De Botton's idea is that the point of philosophy is to make us feel better. I'm sure that philosophy's purpose can entail much more than that, but it's a nice idea for a book nevertheless. It is divided into sections giving us brief descriptions of the theories of six philosophers. Beginning with Socrates and ending with Nietzsche, we are given consolation for unpopularity, not having enough money, frustration, inadequacy, a broken hearts and difficulties.

The tone is mostly that of a self-help book but I think that there is a little more to it than that. The short biographies of the philosophers are interesting in themselves. De Botton does a good job of bringing the different historical figures to life. This would be a good starting point were you to be interested in the history of philosophy. De Botton connects the philosophers together and explains a little about how they influenced or disagreed with each other. Bringing the philosophers to life in this way is important, as it is not just their teachings that are intended to help us, but also the examples they set in the way they lived their lives.

The book is jam packed with interesting pictures. Some of these are really helpful in helping us to understand the theories and how they apply to our lives. I particularly liked the graphs explaining Epicurus's ideas on happiness. There are however, far too many pictures. Sometimes they seem rather superfluous and annoying; I know what a remote control looks like, thank you.

The first two sections of the book are the best. The lessons De Botton takes from Socrates and Epicurus seem to me to be very pertinent. After that the book loses its way somewhat descending into a meandering account of how Montaigne can console us for various inadequacies. Still the book continues to be interesting and does get better again towards the end.

Overall I enjoyed this book. It has helped me and has had me reflecting on my own life through the lens of different philosophies.
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on 20 November 2009
I heard of the author for the first time quite recently, on Radio 4, also reading a brief piece about him in a newspaper around the same time. The newspaper article was rather dismissive of him, noting his £200 million inheritance as if to write him off as a dilletante. I think that unfair. It was, I believe, Gibbon who thought the existence of a leisured class essential for the production of great ideas and he has at least some point there, irritating though it may be to those of us without vast inheritances or other wealth.

De Botton calls himself (and, judging by how he has been described on radio and in print, insists (?) on being described as a "philosopher". That is no doubt correct insofar as a philosopher is, literally speaking, a "lover of truth", but it seems a little self-inflated in a modern world where we think of philosophers as those who produce original works of philosophy, not those merely interested in the subject, or those who popularize the subject in books or on television. No-one would doubt that, say, Nietzsche, was a philosopher, or Plato. I think many may snigger at the author's self-description.

As to the book itself, I found it very readable, which seems to be its raison d'etre: to bring to philosophy those who might think it a pointless and/or dusty waste of time. In my opinion the work succeeds insofar as that was indeed the author's aim. The idea of introducing a public readership to "philosophy through the ages" is far from new. Hundreds of years ago, Boethius did the same and, by the way, called his book "The Consolation of Philosophy". Well, imitation, as Wilde opined, IS the sincerest form of flattery! However, I saw no acknowledgment by de Botton, but I may simply have missed it...A very good similar work of ? exegesis (in my view, far better than de Botton's if one wants a more complete layout of thinking in Europe) is Bertrand Russell's book The Wisdom of the West, which I certainly recommend to anyone interested.

This present work goes through the philosophies of quite a number of philosophers, such as Socrates, Epicurus and many others. It is an idiosyncratic collection, eclectic and not pretending to being a comprehensive "list". That, I think, is a strength and not a weakness of this book, though I was less happy about the mixing of the former with personal anecdotes or stories from the author's life (or so it seemed; they may have been just stories, made up for teaching reasons).

Overall, I consider the book to be a "very good thing" despite its limitations; one which many will find very interesting. Worth reading, for sure.
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on 28 October 2007
The author shows how philosophy supplied Socrates with convictions in which he was able to have rational confidence when faced with adversity. In Socrates' time, the opinion of the majority was equated with truth. He thus suffered the sad fate to be good and yet judged evil. We should therefore strive to listen to the dictates of the reason and not the dictates of public opinion.
The philosophy of Epicures places an emphasis on the importance of sexual pleasure and he promises that philosophy will guide us to superior cures and true happiness. Friendship and freedom are the two most important items on the Epicurean acquisition list.
Seneca conceived of philosophy as a discipline to assist human beings in overcoming conflicts between their wishes and reality. He saw that we must reconcile ourselves to the necessary imperfectability of existence. We will cease to be angry once we cease to be too hopeful.
Cicero claims that scholarship furnishes us with true means of living well and happily, to spend our lives without discontent and without vexation.
Montaigne saw that we have to accept our body with all its flaws: it smells, aches, ages, throbs and pulses.
Booksellers are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the number of books that were written because authors couldn't find anyone to talk to. Actually every difficult work presents us with the choice whether to judge the author inept for not being clear, or ourselves stupid for not understanding the ideas.
For Schopenhauer, a man of genius can hardly be sociable, for what dialogues could indeed be so intelligent and entertaining as his own monologues? For him, art and philosophy help us to turn pain into knowledge. "The prudent man strives for freedom from pain, not pleasure."
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on 11 November 2000
Alain de B was brought to my attention after seeing him savage various authors on the Booker Prize programme. He had a definite charisma and I went out and bought this book. It's fantastic. His writing is not as witty or luminous as he seemed in person. This wasn't a book which, like some viewers did, I thought was hilarious. It was serious stuff - but never pretentious. He takes 6 philosophers and looks at them in relation to various problems we all suffer today - not having enough money, feelings of failure, broken heart. In that respect, it's wonderful. Most philosophy books leave me cold or go over my head but this author seemed determined to welcome his readers in, make us feel at home, amuse us and entertain us, console us and stimulate us. What is also charming about the book is that occasionally (and more of this would be have even better) he mentions some of his own problems that he's suffered (eg brief sexual inadequacy) which certainly wins the readers over. Rather than being an oh-so-erudite professor above us all, he writes very much with a feeling of being 'one of us'. He puts abstract principles into practical use, with a relevance for everyone and everyday life. While it didn't 'change' my life after reading it and I felt he could taken his 'pursuit of happiness' argument a good deal further, it was oddly compelling. I also discovered that he has a website ... and like many readers I'm looking forwards to exploring it.
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on 8 April 2015
A great compact, articulate and appetising introduction into some of the more enquiring minds of yesteryear. These guys came up with plenty of compelling theories and questions but many people often forget that collectively they also came up with some impenetrable nonsense too, so this is why people like de Botton play such a vital and effective roll as they have taken the time and effort to study these minds at length in order to separate the wheat from the chaff so that we can get a flavour for their better ideas and apply them to our every day lives and if we wish we can pursue their work further at our leisure.
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on 13 August 2005
To appreciate this book I think you need to be in the right frame of mind - relaxed, motivated, analytical and receptive. I have enjoyed it and discovered much resonance. It is nicely structured with quirky illustrations. The only criticism I have is that there is no formal bibligraphy, although references are included in a seven-page notes section. For the layperson (like me) it provides a simple yet effective introduction into the world of philosophy which, hitherto, I have avoided. A book to keep and, possibly, return to.
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