Alain de Botton FRSL (/dəˈbɒtən/; born 20 December 1969) is a Swiss-born British author and public speaker. His books discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy's relevance to everyday life. He published Essays in Love (1993), which went on to sell two million copies. Other bestsellers include How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004), and The Architecture of Happiness (2006).

Alain de Botton

De Botton in 2011
De Botton in 2011
Born (1969-12-20) 20 December 1969 (age 53)
Zürich, Switzerland
OccupationWriter, Speaker
  • Swiss
  • British
Alma materGonville and Caius College, Cambridge (BA)
King's College London (MPhil)
Harvard University

He co-founded The School of Life in 2008 and Living Architecture in 2009.[1][2] In 2015, he was awarded "The Fellowship of Schopenhauer", an annual writers' award from the Melbourne Writers Festival, for that work.

Early life and family edit

De Botton was born in Zürich, the son of Jacqueline (née Burgauer) and Gilbert de Botton. Gilbert was born in Alexandria, Egypt, but after being expelled under Nasser, he went to live and work in Switzerland, where he co-founded an investment firm, Global Asset Management; his family was estimated to have been worth £234 million in 1999.[3]

Alain de Botton's Swiss-born mother was Ashkenazi, and his father was from a Sephardic Jewish family from the town of Boton[4] in Castile and León. De Botton's ancestors include Abraham de Boton.[5] De Botton's paternal grandmother was Yolande Harmer, a Jewish-Egyptian journalist who spied for Israel and died in Jerusalem.[6]

He has one sister, Miel, and they received a secular upbringing.[7] Alain spent the first twelve years of his life in Switzerland where he was brought up speaking French and German.

Education edit

De Botton attended the Dragon School where English became his primary language. He was later sent to board and study at Harrow School, a public school in England. He has often described his childhood as that of a shy child living in boarding schools.

De Botton read history at University of Cambridge, where he was a member of Gonville and Caius College, graduating with a double starred first.[8] He then completed an MPhil in Philosophy at King's College, London (1991–1992),[9] and began studying for a PhD in French philosophy at Harvard University.[10] However, he gave up his research to write books for the general public.[8]

Writing edit

Fiction edit

In his first novel, Essays in Love (titled On Love in the U.S.), published in 1993, de Botton deals with the process of falling in and out of love. In 2010, Essays in Love was adapted to film by director Julian Kemp for the romantic comedy My Last Five Girlfriends.[11] De Botton wrote a sequel to Essays in Love, published in 2016, titled The Course of Love.

Non-fiction edit

In 1997 he published his first non-fiction book, How Proust Can Change Your Life, based on the life and works of Marcel Proust.[12] It was a bestseller in both the US and UK.[13]

This was followed by The Consolations of Philosophy in 2000. The title of the book is a reference to Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, in which philosophy appears as an allegorical figure to Boethius to console him in the period leading up to 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. The book has been both praised and criticized for its therapeutic approach to philosophy.

In 2004, he published Status Anxiety.

In The Architecture of Happiness[14] (2006), he 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 people every day, though people rarely pay particular attention to it. A good portion of the book discusses how human personality traits are reflected in architecture. He defends Modernist architecture, and chastises the pseudo-vernacular architecture of housing, especially in the UK. "The best modern architecture," he argues, "doesn't hold a mirror up to nature, though it may borrow a pleasing shape or expressive line from nature's copybook. It gives voice to aspirations and suggests possibilities. The question isn't whether you'd actually like to live in a Le Corbusier home, but whether you'd like to be the kind of person who'd like to live in one."[citation needed]

In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009),[15] de Botton produced a survey of ten different jobs, including accountancy, rocket science and biscuit manufacture. The book, a piece of narrative non-fiction, includes two hundred original images and aims to unlock the beauty, interest and occasional horror of the modern world of work. After a negative review of the book by New York Times critic Caleb Crain, de Botton posted a scathing ad hominem attack against Crain.[16][17] He later apologized for his remarks.[18]

In August 2009, de Botton applied to a competition advertised among British literary agents by BAA, the airport management company, for the post of "writer-in-residence" at Heathrow Airport. The post involved being seated at a desk in Terminal 5, and writing about the comings and goings of passengers over a week. De Botton was appointed to the position. The result was the book, A Week at the Airport, published by Profile Books in September 2009. The book features photographs by the documentary photographer Richard Baker, with whom de Botton also worked on The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.[19]

In January 2012, de Botton published Religion for Atheists, about the benefits of religions for those who do not believe in them. De Botton put it: "It's clear to me that religions are in the end too complex, interesting and on occasion wise to be abandoned simply to those who believe in them".[20] In April 2012, he published How to Think More about Sex, one in a series of six books on topics of emotional life published by his enterprise, The School of Life.[clarification needed]

In October 2013, he published Art as Therapy, co-written with the Australian-Scottish art historian, John Armstrong. Art as Therapy argues that certain great works of art "offer clues on managing the tensions and confusions of everyday life".[21]

In February 2014, de Botton published his fourteenth book, a title called The News: A User's Manual, a study of the effects of the news on modern mentality, viewed through the prism of 25 news stories, culled from a variety of sources, which de Botton analyses in detail. The book delved with more rigour into de Botton's analyses of the modern media that appeared in Status Anxiety.

Newspapers edit

De Botton used to write articles for several English newspapers and from 1998 to 2000 wrote a regular column for The Independent on Sunday.

Lecturing, television and radio edit

De Botton travels extensively to lecture.[22] He has given lectures at TED conferences.[23] In July 2011, he spoke in Edinburgh about "Atheism 2.0", an idea of atheism that also incorporates our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence.[24] In July 2009, he spoke at Oxford University about the philosophy of failure and success, and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments.[25]

In 2011 he presented a series of talks for the BBC Radio 4 series A Point of View.[26]

He has his own production company, Seneca Productions, which makes television documentaries based upon his works.[22]

Reception of his writing edit

De Botton has written in a variety of formats to mixed response. Positive reviews of his books attest that he has made literature, philosophy and art more accessible to a wider audience.[27][28][29][30][31]

Negative reviews allege that de Botton tends to state the obvious[32][33] and have characterized some of his books as pompous and lacking focus.[34][35][36][37]

In response to a question about whether he felt "pulled" to be a writer, de Botton responded:

So I think where people tend to end up results from a combination of encouragement, accident, and lucky break, etc. etc. Like many others, my career happened like it did because certain doors opened and certain doors closed. You know, at a certain point I thought it would be great to make film documentaries. Well, in fact, I found that to be incredibly hard and very expensive to do and I didn't really have the courage to keep battling away at that. In another age, I might have been an academic in a university, if the university system had been different. So it's all about trying to find the best fit between your talents and what the world can offer at that point in time.[38]

Other projects edit

The School of Life edit

In 2008, Alain de Botton was one of a team of writers and educators who founded The School of Life. Based in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Seoul, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, São Paulo, Berlin and Melbourne, The School of Life offers an emotional education focusing in particular on the issues of Work and Relationships. In an interview with de Botton said:

The idea is to challenge traditional universities and reorganise knowledge, directing it towards life, and away from knowledge for its own sake. In a modest way, it’s an institution that is trying to give people what universities should I think always give them: a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture.[39]

Living Architecture edit

In May 2009, de Botton launched a project called "Living Architecture,"[40] which builds holiday rental houses in the UK using leading contemporary architects. These include Peter Zumthor, MVRDV, JVA, NORD and Michael and Patti Hopkins. The most recent house to be announced is a collaboration between the Turner-prize winning artist Grayson Perry, and the architecture firm FAT. The houses are rented out to the general public. De Botton, the creative director and chairman of Living Architecture, aims to improve the appreciation of good contemporary architecture—a task that serves as a practical continuation of his theoretical work on architecture in his book The Architecture of Happiness. In October 2009, he was appointed an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), in recognition of his services to architecture.[41]

Museum displays edit

In 2014, de Botton was invited by three museums—the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto—to contribute content to special exhibitions based on his work, Art as Therapy. De Botton and his colleague John Armstrong inserted captions, arranged on large Post-it-style labels designed by the Dutch graphic artist, Irma Boom, bearing slogans and commentary on exhibits throughout the Rijksmuseum.[42]

Personal life edit

De Botton has described his relationship with his father as difficult, stating: "When I sold my first bestseller (and a million dollars was peanuts for my father) he was not impressed and wondered what I was going to do with myself."[43] When his father died, his family was left a large trust fund,[44] although de Botton says his income is derived solely from his own activities (book sales, speaking engagements, business consulting, The School of Life).[45][46][47] Alain's stepmother, Janet Wolfson de Botton, is a prominent patron of the arts and competition bridge player.[48] He married his wife, Charlotte, in 2003 and they have two sons.[49] De Botton lives in London with his family.

In August 2014, de Botton was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[50]

Bibliography edit

Books edit

  • De Botton, Alain (1993). Essays in love. London: Macmillan.
    • — (1993). On love. New York: Grove Press. Variant title in USA.
    • — (1994) [1993]. Essays in love. Paperback reprint. London: Picador.
    • — (2006). Essays in love. Revised ed. London: Picador.
    • — (2015) [2006]. Essays in love. Reprint of 2006 revised ed. London: Picador.
  • 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)
  • Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion (2012)
  • How to Think More About Sex (2012)
  • De Botton, Alain; Armstrong, John (2013). Art as therapy. London: Phaidon Press.
  • The News: A User's Manual (2014)
  • The Course of Love (2016)

Critical studies, reviews and biography edit

  • Hamilton, Ben (4 January 2014). "The healing art". Books. The Spectator. 324 (9671): 23–24. Review of Art as therapy.

Filmography edit

TV series edit

  1. Socrates on Self-Confidence
  2. Epicurus on Happiness
  3. Seneca on Anger
  4. Montaigne on Self-Esteem
  5. Schopenhauer on Love
  6. Nietzsche on Hardship (featuring Cathal Grealish)

References edit

  1. ^ Hird, Alison (17 June 2014). "Parisians learn at the School of Life". RFI. Retrieved 16 August 2022. Founded in London in 2008 by Swiss-born philosopher Alain de Botton
  2. ^ Louie, Elaine (17 November 2010). "Alain de Botton's First Effort to Bring Modern Architecture to the British". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 August 2022. Alain de Botton, the Swiss-born essayist who lives in London, founded a nonprofit group called Living Architecture in 2009
  3. ^ "Sunday Times Rich List". 1999. Archived from the original on 31 December 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2014., 1999 Sunday Times Rich List now behind a paywall
  4. ^ "Alain de Botton". Grove Atlantic. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Gilbert de Botton". The Telegraph (obituary). 30 August 2000. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  6. ^ Ian Black and Benny Morris (2007). Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services. Grove Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-8021-3286-4.
  7. ^ de Botton, Alain (24 December 2011). "An atheist at Christmas: Oh come all ye faithless". The Guardian. London.
  8. ^ a b Poole, Dan (15 June 2006). "The Real World: Alain de Botton, philosopher, writer and TV presenter". The Independent (UK). Archived from the original on 28 January 2020. Retrieved 28 January 2020.
  9. ^ "King's College London – Notable alumni". Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  10. ^ New York, Alain de Botton, Volume 35, New York Magazine Co., 2002, page 90 ISSN 0028-7369
  11. ^ "Tribeca Film – MY LAST FIVE GIRLFRIENDS". New York. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  12. ^ Birnbaum, Robert (1 September 2002). "Alain de Botton Interview (The Art of Travel)". Identity Theory. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  13. ^ Norman Goldman (September 2002). "Interview with Alain de Botton". (interview). Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  14. ^ Sarah Treleaven (12 June 2008). "How to be Happy: How Does This Building Make You Feel?". AOL (interview). Archived from the original on 11 October 2009. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
  15. ^ "Official Bio". Alain de Botton.
  16. ^ Adams, Stephen (1 July 2009). "Alain de Botton tells New York Times reviewer: 'I will hate you until I die'". Telegraph. London. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  17. ^ "Toil and Trouble". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 November 2023.
  18. ^ Neyfakh, Leon (1 July 2009). "Is Alain de Botton Sorry About Angry Comment Left on Critic's Blog?". Observer. London. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  19. ^ The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Page 328
  20. ^ The Philosophers Magazine ISSUE # 57 Page 26
  21. ^ "Free Lecture: Alain de Botton on "Art as Therapy"". The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. 18 October 2013. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  22. ^ a b "TV & Audio". Alain de Botton. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  23. ^ "Alain de Botton: Philosopher". TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. New York, NY: TED Conferences, LLC. 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2018. Through his witty and literate books, and his new School of Life, Alain de Botton helps others find fulfillment in the everyday
  24. ^, TED Talks|Alain De Botton: Atheism 2.0
  25. ^ Archived 27 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine, TED Talks|Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success; accessed 26 February 2014.
  26. ^ "A Point of View – BBC Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  27. ^ "The Consolations of Philosophy". Archived from the original on 16 April 2010. Retrieved 23 March 2010. De Botton's idea of bringing philosophy to the masses and presenting it in an unthreatening manner (and showing how it might be useful in anyone's life), is admirable; the way he has gone about it is less so.
  28. ^ "Philosophy for a night out at the Dog and Duck". The Independent. London, UK. 3 April 2000. Retrieved 11 July 2009.[dead link]
  29. ^ Hamilton, Fiona; Coates, Sam; Savage, Michael (March 2002). "Financial alarm under the palms". London, UK: Times Literary Supplement. Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 11 July 2009. 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.
  30. ^ "Why it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive". Evening Standard. May 2002. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
  31. ^ Conrad, Peter (9 April 2000). "When Nietzsche meets Delia Smith". guardian. London, UK.
  32. ^ Charlie Brooker (January 2005). "The art of drivel". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 July 2009. ...a pop philosopher who's forged a lucrative career stating the bleeding obvious in a series of poncey, lighter-than-air books aimed at smug Sunday supplement pseuds looking for something clever-looking to read on the plane
  33. ^ "Flaccid fallacies". guardian. London, UK. 25 March 2000. Archived from the original on 23 April 2009. Retrieved 20 March 2009. De Botton's new book consists of obvious, hopeless or contradictory advice culled from great thinkers on how to overcome certain problems of existence.
  34. ^ Jim Holt (10 December 2006). "Dream Houses". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 April 2008. Like de Botton's previous books, this one contains its quota of piffle dressed up in pompous language.
  35. ^ Mark Lamster. "Bring Back the Bluebird". Archived from the original on 13 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2009. ...little of the original thinking that might be expected from an outsider... The Architecture of Happiness would be an innocuous castoff if not for its proselytizing ambitions
  36. ^ Naomi Wolf (March 2009). "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton". The Times. London. Retrieved 11 July 2009. ...this book examining "work" sounds often as if it has been written by someone who never had a job that was not voluntary, or at least pleasant.
  37. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (3 April 2011). "How can you be a militant atheist? It's like sleeping furiously". The Guardian. London, UK. Archived from the original on 1 May 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
  38. ^ "INTERVIEW: The Art of Connection: A Conversation with Alain de Botton". Wild River Review. October 2009. Archived from the original on 28 October 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  39. ^ "Alain de Botton: I would advise a friend to travel alone (". 5 August 2008.
  40. ^ "Living Architecture. Holidays in modern architecture".
  41. ^ "Alain de Botton's Living Architecture Project".
  42. ^ Searle, Adrian (25 April 2014). "Art Is Therapy review – de Botton as doorstepping self-help evangelist". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  43. ^ שלומציון קינן, ראיון עם אלן דה בוטון, "הארץ", 2007 (tr. "Shlomzion Keenan, interview with Alain de Bouton, "Haaretz", 2007)
  44. ^ "Janet de Botton and family". The London Sunday Times. 27 April 2008.
  45. ^ "Philosopher king: Alain de Botton finds glamour and drama in the world". The Independent. 27 March 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  46. ^ Barber, Lynn (22 March 2009). "Office affairs". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  47. ^ "On De Botton". The Irish Times. 6 April 2009.
  48. ^ McGinn, Dave (26 October 2010). "Bridge's deep pockets". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  49. ^ "Alain de Botton: 'My father was physically quite violent... he would destroy the house". The Independent. 25 May 2012. Archived from the original on 8 November 2020. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  50. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". The Guardian. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  51. ^ "Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness (TV Mini Series 2000) - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 20 November 2022.

External links edit