By Andrew Ross
The Consolations of Philosophy is a thinking person’s book easily understood by the masses. The book, the fifth by author Alain de Botton, offers readers a reassu-rance for many of life’s depressing problems, as set out in the works of the elite philosophical canon.
de Botton’s book takes the teachings of six great philosophers and applies them to common problems in life. The first section, for example, uses Socrates to address the problem of unpop-ularity. Other sections cover frustration, inadequacy, and broken-heartedness. In addition to Socrates, Consolations also covers Nietzsche, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Epicurus. The complex writings of each of these canonized philosophers are translated into simple english, interpreted clearly and logically, and summarized concisely. Of course, the pictures do help.
Originally from Switzerland, de Botton moved to London as a student. He holds the position of Associate Research Fellow of the Philosophy Programme at the University of London, and has also lived in Washington, D.C.
Although his biography reads quite differently than that of Socrates, the fourth-century B.C. Athenian scholar who lived in poverty most of his life and never left his hometown, the two do have similarities. In particular, they both took philosophy out of the ivory tower and brought it to the common people, in such a way that they could understand it. Like Socrates before him, de Botton is taking philosophy out for some much-needed fresh air.
Consolations accomplishes something that few other books in the genre have done: it makes philosophy accessible to general readers. Whereas most philosophy writing tends to be anything but clear and concise, de Botton has made this book both. The book is even illustrated, with drawings and pictures scattered liberally throughout each chapter. However, even seasoned philosophers will find de Botton’s approach refreshing and engaging. de Botton makes the leap from a highly involved academic discussion to the sort of language one could use in an argument or when talking with non-philosophy majors.
Although his method is unconventional, it is successful in that the integrity of the original ideas and concepts is still maintained through the translation. This book promises to let many people in on a secret that philosophers have known for years.
Philosophy is not some abstract intellectual concept without any relevance to the real world; rather, it is a fascinating, all-encompassing discipline, and it can offer insight into the very basic questions of the human experience.