Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1969 and now lives in London. He is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries. Alain also started and helps to run a school in London called The School of Life, dedicated to a new vision of education. Alain’s latest book, published in April 2016, is titled The Course of Love.
Alain started writing at a young age. His first book, Essays in Love [titled On Love in the US], was published when he was twenty-three. It minutely analysed the process of falling in and out of love, in a style that mixed elements of a novel together with reflections and analyses normally found in a piece of non-fiction. It’s a book of which many readers are still fondest and it has sold two million copies worldwide.
It was with How Proust Can Change Your Life that Alain’s work reached a truly global audience. The book was a particular success in the United States, where the mixture of an ironic ‘self-help’ envelope and an analysis of one of the most revered but unread books in the Western canon struck a chord. It was followed by The Consolations of Philosophy, to which it was in many ways an accompaniment. Though sometimes described as popularisations, these two books were at heart attempts to develop original ideas (about, for example, friendship, art, envy, desire and inadequacy) with the help of the thoughts from other thinkers – an approach that would have been familiar to writers like Seneca or Montaigne and that disappeared only with the growing professionalisation of scholarship in the 19th century.
Alain 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 have seen 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. In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain discussed questions of beauty and ugliness in architecture. Much of the book was written at de Botton’s home in West London, just near Shepherd’s Bush roundabout, one of the uglier man-made places, which nevertheless provided helpful examples of how important it is to get architecture right.
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work saw Alain travelling across the world for two years with a photographer in tow, looking at people in their workplaces and reflecting on the great themes of work: why do we do it? How can it be more bearable? What is a meaningful life? The book is at once lyrical and gripping like a novel can be, and yet also packed with ideas and analysis.
In the summer of 2009, Alain was appointed Heathrow’s first Writer-in-Residence and wrote a book about his experiences, A Week at the Airport
In 2011/2012, Alain launched a major book, Religion for Atheists, looking at what committed atheists (like the author) might learn from religion, focusing not on doctrines, but on ritual, architecture, art, morality, community and pilgrimage. Alain continues his work with the architectural organisation he has founded, Living Architecture, which aims to give everyone access to the work of some of the greatest architects in the world.
October 2013 saw the arrival of the book Art as Therapy, co-written with the art historian John Armstrong. Their proposal is that certain great works of art offer clues on managing the tensions and confusions of everyday life and that, approached in the right way, art can help us answer both the intimate and the everyday questions we all ask ourselves.
Turning his attention to the news, in January 2014 Alain published a book called The News: A User’s Manual. It urged us to think differently about the media and to recognise the ways in which our attention spans and mentalities are manipulated.
A lot of Alain’s time is spent running The School of Life, in particular authoring pieces for its Youtube channel www.youtube.com/theschooloflifetv and for www.thebookoflife.org/ a curated collection of the best and most helpful ideas in the area of emotional life.
The Course of Love, published in 2016, is the long-awaited sequel to Alain’s first book Essays in Love, marks a delightful return to the novel and is a meditation on modern relationships.