Book review: The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

I’ve picked up the book 2 days ago at my local bookstore around the corner (I am blessed). I was facing a weekend without kids. I didn’t want to go outside and hang out. I felt the urge to read.
Sure, I could have picked out any book. A heartbreaking story about a lost childhood. The funny, interesting and sometimes bizarre anecdotes of a roadtrip by motorcycle on route 66. Or even a cooking book. I like all books. Except these ‘self help books’. The few I peeked in towere patronizing and denegrating to a certain level. They made me wonder if the author was really out to help others. Or if writing the book was just a way to feed their narcistic side.

Back to the book. Eventhough I’m not currently at a point in my life in which I feel the need for consolation, the book stood out. I’ve always had an interest in philosophy. The reviews that were printed on the back convinced me. Then I opened it and read a passage. Just to reassure myself that I wasn’t gonna spend money on a book that would end up untouched, almost as decoration, in my modest library.
Alain de Botton described a certain event in the life of Epicurus.  My decision was made.

From the get-go you get dragged into the adventures of the author, intertwined with the lifes of the biggest philosophers since ancient times. Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzche. de Botton translates ancient ideas, philosophies and  notions into ways to handle modern, everyday problems, struggles and frustrations.

Through his focus of painting a human picture of these almost god-like names and mixing their way of thinking with their way of being, he brings philosophy down to a level that is extremely comprehensible for the uninitiated ones, just like myself. Sure, I do know the names and I know of these men and who they were. But I could never really define or explain their personal philosophy. de Botton made it so simple, that he made me wonder why I haven’t acted upon my interest in this matter sooner.

Besides my interest in philosophy and my love for psychology, I’ve always loved history. The book makes you feel like you travelled through time and are personally witnessing the Great Ones trying to figure out all aspects of life. He portrays them as extra-ordinary, but human. And he does it with the utmost respect. You can really feel how much he admires the people he writes about and I can imagine the pleasure he finds into studying them. Almost like a greatgrandson trying to discover his ancestors.

Eventhough he went through the trouble to be where these great philosophers have been, breathe the air that filled their lungs, see the inspiring scenaries that made them think and come up with solutions and logic reasoning, de Botton never expresses his personal philosophy. Which isn’t necessary in this book. He functions as an observor and story teller. A witness who stood  on the side and now chooses to tell the world what happened.

At times, his description of people was too negative and/or too exagerated – for my own personal taste. Yes, even a bit depressing. And I guess that did match my view of a philosopher being a person who thinks about the world, but sometimes doesn’t really live in it. Or at least sees the world in a weird way. Kinda hard to explain
There are a lot of pictures in the book too. And it did seem kind of odd at times. Sometimes it felt like I was reading a print of a blog article. But on the other hand, I admire the effort and trouble the author went through to make it an easy-to–digest work.

But I have to say, I’ve enjoyed reading “Consolations of philosophy”. It was mind stimulating. And that’s exactly what I needed. I like his style of writing and I will be checking out more of his books.  But for now, I highly recommend this one. To anybody and everybody. You’ll enjoy it, I’m sure.

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Books

Sometimes I forget how good it feels to read. I forget what it’s like to let your eyes embrace the words on paper. To flip pages without witnessing time flying by. Traveling the world is as simple as opening a book.  The collections of words are addicting. You enter a zone, a state of mind that you don’t want to leave. You get lost in the fantasy – or reality – of the writer. A stranger who captures your mind.

I remember learning how to write my name. Then I learned how to read. Everytime I would read a book, my brain felt like a plant that had been thirsting for water. Words are my water. I was reading Konsalik in elementary school. “Lord of the rings” when I was 11. I would read anything and everything.
I’m grateful for the books my parents kept around the house. Great mental stimulation. At times I would read all night long. Literally. My mom would come and wake me up to get ready for school, just as I would turn the last page and finish the story.

I still do that. It’s hard to put a book aside. I don’t like interruptions when I’m reading. Not because of the distraction of my concentration. But because it feels like being in a warm room on a comfortable chair and all of the sudden someone abruptly pulls you out and throws you into the icecold snow. Brutal.

Unfortunally I don’t read as often as I used to anymore. Or as often as I would like to. But when I do, it feels like coming home after getting lost in the woods. And therefor I keep books in almost every room in my house. A house without books is like a party without music. Pointless…