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Book Review: The Consolations of Philosophy

Occasionally, a book comes along that manages to capture that rare combination of being delightfully easy to read while also being remarkably insightful. ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ is one such book and the one that made me become an instant fan of Alain De Botton. While some may find it bordering on ‘self-help’, there is a charm about this work that makes it feel more like a casual chat that is inspiring rather than trying to take itself too seriously and coming across as overly pretentious.

There is something truly approachable about De Botton’s writing style in that it feels like he is sitting across a cafe table from you, casually chatting about all these fascinating philosophers from the past and what they had to say that can be used to provide us with some assistance today. He has the incredible ability to make philosophy come to life so that it becomes more than just a framework of thought but something that is relevant to us and that we can apply to our own lives.

De Botton offers up six chapters covering different topics within ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’; Unpopularity, Not Having Enough Money, Frustration, Inadequacy, A Broken Heart and Difficulties. With each, he talks about the challenges and insight that a philosopher from the past has experienced in relation to that; for instance, in talking about unpopularity, he discusses the story of Socrates who had been condemned to death by the people of Athens for standing true to his values and beliefs.

It’s rare to have someone say that the central topic of their work is Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and yet manage to make it easy to read and accessible, yet that is exactly what De Botton has managed to do. Didn’t think you could relate to Nietzsche? Perhaps give this book a try and see how you feel afterwards.

De Botton also has the wonderful capability of fusing various elements of the ancient world into his presentation to give a richer understanding of where that philosopher’s train of thought had originated from. By exploring everything from the art, the architecture, or the commonly shared beliefs of society at that time, De Botton is able to provide some of the ‘missing keys’ to our understanding and allow us a more in-depth peak into that world. It is this ability that really brings his ideas and concepts to life and allows us to bridge the gap of many hundred years and find connection with some of the great thinkers who have gone before.

You can purchase the paperback of ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ here.

You can purchase the Kindle version here.

A six part television series was also produced and you can watch the episodes on Youtube; Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

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