Consolations

Just finished The Consolations of Philosophy, and while it took me a while to read a 250-odd page paperback, it was enjoyable stuff throughout.

De Botton picks 6 philosophers and 6 predicaments, one for each philosopher to console us. It’s attempt to make philosophy practical, then. The philosophers in questions are:

  • Socrates – Unpopularity
  • Epicurus – Not having enough money
  • Seneca – Frustration
  • Montaigne – Inadequacy
  • Schopenhauer – Broken heart
  • Nietzsche – Difficulties

So, the focus is pretty narrow on each one, this isn’t a reader on all aspects of each thinkers’ work. But de Botton picks out some excellent passages from the original works for quotatation, and his own explainations and examples are thoughfully and entertainingly done.

It’s a great little book, though whether it would ever be of any practical use I’m not sure. Itcertainly has put me in mind to read some more de Botton this year: I have Status Anxiety on the shelves and wouldn’t mind having a go at his Proust one at some point.

Consolations also has one brilliant joke, which really had me laughing out loud when I spotted it:

It is common to assume that we are dealing with a highy intelligent book when we cease to understand it. Profound ideas cannot, after all, be explained in the language of children. Yet the association between difficulty and profundity might less generously be described as a manifestation in the literary sphere of a perversity familiar from emotional life, where people who are mysterious and elusive can inspire a respect in modest minds that reliable and clear ones do not.

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