Alain de Botton
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Alain's family originates from a small Castilian town of Boton (now vanished) on the Spanish 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. He has one sister, Miel, who is a psychologist in Paris.
He currently lives in Hammersmith, West London, with his wife Charlotte, whom he married in 2003, and their sons Samuel and Saul. He is Director of the Graduate Philosophy Program at London University
Early life and education
He is the only son of Gilbert de Botton, art collector and financier who founded Global Asset Management and his first wife, Jacqueline Burgauer. De Botton 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 Harrow, where he learned to speak English. His family later moved to London when he was 12.
He was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and Harrow School in London. He achieved a double starred first in history and philosophy at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1988-91), and completed his masters degree in philosophy at King's College London (1991-92).
He began a Ph.D in French philosophy at Harvard, but gave up research to write fiction. He was 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.
De Botton has written essayistic books, 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." His books are published in 20 languages.
In 1993, his first novel, Essays in Love (titled On Love in the US), analyzed the process of falling in and out of love. The style of the book was unusual, because it mixed elements of a novel together with reflections and analyzes normally found in a piece of non-fiction.
He didn't, however, receive world-wide recognition until after the publication of his first non-fiction work, How Proust Can Change Your Life, in 1997. The book was based on the life and works of Marcel Proust. It is a mixture of a "self-help" envelope within which lies an ironically shallow response to one of the most revered but unread books in the Western canon. It was a bestseller in the US and UK.
It was followed by The Consolations of Philosophy. Though sometimes described as works of popularisation, these two books were attempts to develop original ideas about friendship, art, envy, desire, and inadequacy for example, with the help of thoughts of other thinkers. The title of this book is a reference to Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, in which philosophy appears as an allegorical figure to Boethius to offer him consolation before he faces his impending execution. 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, or stay in hotels, or go to the countryside.
In Status Anxiety, he examined an almost universal anxiety that is rarely mentioned directly: the anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we're judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser.
De Botton's latest book, The Architecture of Happiness, 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 us every day, even though we rarely pay particular attention to it. Also, a good portion of the book discusses how human personality traits are reflected in architecture.
He writes regular columns for several English newspapers, including The Independent (on Sundays). He also travels extensively to lecture on his works.
- Essays In Love (1993), also published as On Love: A Novel (2006)
- The Romantic Movement (1994)
- Kiss and Tell (1995)
- How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997)
- The Consolations of Philosophy (2000)
- The Art of Travel (2002)
- Status Anxiety (2004)
- The Architecture of Happiness (2006)
- The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009)
- A Week at the Airport (2009)
- How Proust Can Change Your Life
- Philosophy: A Guide To Happiness (from "The Consolations of Philosophy")
- The Art of Travel
- Status Anxiety
- The Perfect Home (from The Architecture of Happiness)
"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 (3/4/2000)
"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 (13/5/2002)
"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 (31/5/2002)