The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton is another of the erudite Swiss’s amusing books that addresses problems we all go through and uses de Botton’s knowledge of philosophy to address the problems and to give an introduction to a number of philosophers.
The book is divided into 6 sections, Unpopularity, Not Having Enough Money, Frustration, Inadequacy, A Broken Heart and Difficulties. In Unpopularity Socrates is looked at, in Not Having Enough money Epicurus is examined, Frustration has Seneca as it’s subject, Inadequacy is concerned with Montaigne, A Broken Heart outlines Schopenhauer and difficulties looks at Nietzsche.
Each problem is briefly examined and then the philosopher’s thought and life are outlined. The chapters are also neatly connected to show how the preceding philosopher influenced the subject of the current one.
The book has been praised and criticised for being Philosophy for Dummies. The second accusation is true, but it is not a bad thing. Most of us do not read philosophy but do like to get an overview of what different philosophers have thought and why they thought what they thought. But we’re not all prepared to invest huge amounts of time to read Kant, Hume and the rest of the cannon in great detail.
Books that provide an overview are very useful and can also be enjoyable. de Botton’s skill is shown at it’s best here. He really knows his subjects and also uses them to show that philosophy is relevant. Many people, including myself, do philosophy at University because it is seen externally as well thought out answers to life’s problems. But much of the philosophy encountered is dry debates about language, definitions and has little to say about how highly intelligent people have thought that we should live our lives. de Botton shows how and why a number of great thinkers are relevant and important today.The book does not provide an in depth account of these philosophers, but just whets our appetites to go and find out more about the ones we are interested in.
It is also pleasantly short and concise. It doesn’t stretch itself to cover too much ground or bother with provide some strange plot to hang the story together like Sophie’s World did. Indeed, the comparison is worth making. de Botton knows his subject better and limited the scope, both of which make The Consolations of Philosophy a better book.