Alain de Botton

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Alain de Botton
Born 20 December 1969 (1969-12-20) (age 39)
Zurich, Switzerland
Occupation Essayist, Novelist
Nationality British
Writing period 1993–
Official website

Alain de Botton, (born 20 December 1969 in Zurich, Switzerland) is a British writer and television producer. His books and television programmes discuss various subjects in a somewhat philosophical style while maintaining relevance to everyday life. In August 2008, he was a founder member of a new educational establishment in central London called The School of Life.[1][2]


[edit] Personal life

Alain's family originates from a small Castilian town of Boton (now vanished) on the Iberian peninsula. They left in 1492 along with the rest of the Sephardic Jewish community and eventually settled in Alexandria, Egypt, where de Botton's father was born.[3] He has one sister, Miel, a psychologist in Paris.

He lives in Haverstock Hill, London with his wife Charlotte, whom he married in 2003, and their sons Samuel and Saul.

[edit] Early life and education

De Botton is the son of Gilbert de Botton, a financier, who founded Global Asset Management. [1] The writer spent the first eight years of his life in Switzerland where he learned to speak French and German. He was sent to boarding school at the The Dragon School in Oxford, where he learned to speak English. He subsequently boarded at Harrow School.

De Botton achieved a double starred first in history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1988–1991) and completed his masters degree in philosophy at King's College London (1991–1992).[4]

He began a Ph.D in French philosophy at Harvard University, but gave up research to write fiction.[4] He had also been a PhD candidate at King's College London. De Botton owns and helps run his own production company, Seneca Productions, which regularly broadcasts television documentaries based on his works.[5]

[edit] Writing

De Botton has written essayistic books (both fiction and non-fiction) which refer both to his own experiences and ideas interwoven with those of artists, philosophers, and thinkers. It is a style of writing that has been referred to as a "philosophy of everyday life."[6][7] His books have been published in 20 languages.

In his first novel, Essays In Love (titled On Love in the US), published in 1993, De Botton deals with the process of falling in and out of love. The style of the book is unusual because it mixes elements of a novel with reflections and analyses normally found in non-fiction.

He received international recognition after the publication in 1997 of his first non-fiction work, How Proust Can Change Your Life.[8] The book was based on the life and works of Marcel Proust. It is a mixture of a "self-help" envelope and analysis of one of the most revered but unread books in the Western canon, In Search of Lost Time. It was a bestseller in the U.S. and UK.[3]

Proust was followed by The Consolations of Philosophy in 2000. The title of the book is a reference to Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, in which philosophy appears as an allegorical figure to Boethius to console him in the period leading up to his impending execution. Though sometimes described as works of popularisation,[4] Proust and Consolations were attempts to develop original ideas about friendship, art, envy, desire, and inadequacy, among other things, with the help of thoughts of other thinkers.[2] In The Consolations of Philosophy, de Botton attempts to demonstrate how the teachings of philosophers such as Epicurus, Montaigne, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Seneca, and Socrates can be applied to modern everyday woes such as unpopularity, feelings of inadequacy, financial worries, broken hearts, and the general problem of suffering. The book has been both praised and criticized for its therapeutic approach to philosophy.

De Botton then returned to a more lyrical, personal style of writing. In The Art of Travel, he looked at themes in the psychology of travel: how we imagine places before we see them, how we remember beautiful things, what happens to us when we look at deserts, stay in hotels, and go to the countryside.

In Status Anxiety (2004), he examines an almost universal anxiety that is rarely mentioned directly: what others think of us; about whether we're judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser.

In de Botton's second most recent book, The Architecture of Happiness[9] (2006) he discusses the nature of beauty in architecture and how it is related to the well-being and general contentment of the individual and society. He describes how architecture affects people every day, though people rarely pay particular attention to it. A good portion of the book discusses how human personality traits are reflected in architecture. He ends up defending Modernist architecure, and chastising the pseudo-vernacular architecture of housing, especially in UK. The best modern architecture, he argues, doesn't hold a mirror up to nature, though it may borrow a pleasing shape or expressive line from nature's copybook. It gives voice to aspirations and suggests possibilities. The question isn't whether you'd actually like to live in a Le Corbusier home, but whether you'd like to be the kind of person who'd like to live in one.

In 2009, de Botton will publish his latest book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work[2], a survey of ten differention jobs, including accountancy, rocket science and biscuit manufacture, which includes two hundred original images and aims to unlock the beauty, interest and occasional horror of the modern world of work.

In response to a question about whether he felt "pulled" to be a writer he responded:

"So, I think where people tend to end up results from a combination of encouragement, accident, and lucky break, etc. etc. Like many others, my career happened like it did because certain doors opened and certain doors closed. You know, at a certain point I thought it would be great to make film documentaries. Well, in fact, I found that to be incredibly hard and very expensive to do and I didn’t really have the courage to keep battling away at that. In another age, I might have been an academic in a university, if the university system had been different. So, it’s all about trying to find the best fit between your talents and what the world can offer at that point in time."[10]

De Botton writes regular columns for several English newspapers, including The Independent on Sunday. He also travels extensively to lecture on his works.

An excerpt from de Botton's Kiss and Tell appeared on the AP Literature and Composition Exam in 2002.

[edit] School of Life

De Botton's most recent project is the School of Life — a new cultural enterprise based in central London offering intelligent instruction on how to lead a fulfilled life. In an interview with de Botton said:

The idea is to challenge traditional universities and reorganise knowledge, directing it towards life, and away from knowledge for its own sake. In a modest way, it’s an institution that is trying to give people what universities should I think always give them: a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture.[11]

[edit] Popular cultural references

A fictional podcast by Alain De Botton was mentioned in the avant garde sitcom Peep Show. In Episode 3 of Series 4, Credit manager Mark Corrigan said he got his "brain training from Sudoku and Alain de Botton's weekly podcast."

The weekly podcast does not, in fact, exist. In the same episode he is also mentioned while Mark and Jeremy are discussing how to deal with a personal fitness instructor who the pair have mutual grievances with, with Mark asking "What would de Botton do?" and adding, when Jeremy suggests murder "de Botton wouldn't kill, we're not gonna kill him."

[edit] Reviews

[edit] Positive

"If you had to extract A Good Idea from Alain de Botton, it would be that literature and philosophy can offer ordinary people a richer, more complete understanding of their own experience. This has not been a fashionable line for a long time, which helps to account for the freshness of How Proust Can Change Your Life"—Robert Hanks, The Independent (3 April 2000)

"There's an easy charm to de Botton's writing, pleasure to be had in its intellectual order and civilized tidiness."—Melanie McGrath, Evening Standard (13 May 2002)

"All de Botton's books, fiction and non-fiction, deal with how thought and specifically philosophy might help us deal better with the challenges of quotidian life—returning philosophy to its simple, sound origins."—Annette Kobak, Times Literary Supplement (31 May 2002)

"I won't pretend that The Consolations of Philosophy changed my life, but it did ease me genially through the day I spent reading it; who can ask for anything more?" —Peter Conrad, Observer, (9 April 2000)[12]

"[How Proust can change your Life] is an irresistible madeleine of a volume that ought to be devoured in one sitting." Julie Dam, TIME, 2 June 1997.[13]

[edit] Negative

"... he's an absolute pair-of-aching-balls of a man - a slapheaded, ruby-lipped pop philosopher who's forged a lucrative career stating the bleeding obvious in a series of poncey, lighter-than-air books aimed at smug Sunday supplement pseuds looking for something clever-looking to read on the plane"—Charlie Brooker, The Guardian (1 January 2005) [14]

"[De Botton] has produced a meandering, pompous disquisition that betrays an autodidact’s haphazard sense of the field, but with little of the original thinking that might be expected from an outsider. ... The Architecture of Happiness would be an innocuous castoff if not for its proselytizing ambitions (it has so far spawned a PBS miniseries) and a set of rather insidious ideas camouflaged in its twee prose."—Mark Lamster, I.D. Magazine (January / February 2007)

Reviewing The Architecture of Happiness, New York Times reviewer Jim Holt noted that although the book is in part humorous "in a Woody Allen-ish sort of way", the book, "like de Botton’s previous books, ... contains its quota of piffle dressed up in pompous language."[15]

"The Consolations of Philosophy purports to be a self-help manual of the annoying but lucrative kind that led de Botton to write How Proust Can Change Your Life. In both cases, he has pulled a glittering skein over his subjects' depths. De Botton's new book consists of obvious, hopeless or contradictory advice culled from great thinkers on how to overcome certain problems of existence." — The Guardian, 2000.[16]

"The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work shows all too clearly that some projects are simply appallingly matched to their authors. ... De Botton often sounds as if he is poking at the idea of “work” with a gentlemanly stick, or peering at it under a bell jar; a curiosity of interest mostly to others, not a source of ambition or dread or survival - or money. In short, this book examining “work” sounds often as if it has been written by someone who never had a job that was not voluntary, or at least pleasant."—Naomi Wolf, The Times (21 March 2009) [17]

[edit] Publications

[edit] Filmography

[edit] TV series

  1. Socrates on Self-Confidence
  2. Epicurus on Happiness
  3. Seneca on Anger
  4. Montaigne on Self-Esteem
  5. Schopenhauer on Love
  6. Nietzsche on Hardship

[edit] References

  1. ^ "The School Of Life - Homepage". Retrieved on 2009-03-20. 
  2. ^ a b c "Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de botton, the architecture of happiness, the consolations of philosophy, how proust can change your life, essays in love, philosophy a guide to happiness, The School of Life". Retrieved on 2009-03-20. 
  3. ^ a b "Interview with Alain de Botton", Writerspace
  4. ^ a b c The Real World: Alain de Botton, philosopher, writer and TV presenter, The Independent
  5. ^ The Architecture of Happiness, Official Website
  6. ^ Alain de Botton to deliver the RIBA Trust Annual Lecture 2006, RIBA
  7. ^ ALAIN DE BOTTON, British Council Arts
  8. ^ "Author of The Art of Travel talks with Robert Birnbaum",
  9. ^ "AOL interviews Alain de Botton about The Architecture of Happiness",
  10. ^ Nagy, Kim; "The Art of Connection - A Conversation with Alain de Botton", Wild River Review, November 19, 2007.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Books".,3858,3983857-99939,00.html. Retrieved on 2009-03-24. 
  13. ^ "PROUST FOR DUMMIES". Retrieved on 2009-03-24. 
  14. ^ Brooker, Charlie; "The Art of Drivel", The Guardian, January 1, 2005
  15. ^ Jim Holt (2006). "Dream Houses". New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-04-06. 
  16. ^ "Flaccid fallacies". Retrieved on 2009-03-20. 
  17. ^ Wolf, Naomi; "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton", The Times, March 21, 2009

[edit] External links

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