"I was uncomfortable writing fiction. My love was the personal essay, rather than the novel." -- Alain De Botton
Alain de Botton (born 20 December 1969, Zürich) is a Swiss writer, television presenter and entrepreneur.His books and television programmes discuss various subjects in a philosophical style with an emphasis on their relevance to everyday life. In August 2008, he was a founding member of a new educational establishment in central London called The School of Life. In May 2009, he was a founding member of a new architectural organisation called Living Architecture.
"Booksellers are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the numbers of books that were written because authors couldn't find anyone to talk to.""I am conscious of trying to stretch the boundaries of non-fiction writing. It's always surprised me how little attention many non-fiction writers pay to the formal aspects of their work.""I passionately believe that's it's not just what you say that counts, it's also how you say it - that the success of your argument critically depends on your manner of presenting it.""I'm also interested in the modern suggestion that you can have a combination of love and sex in a marriage - which no previous society has ever believed.""In Britain, because I live here, I can also run into problems of envy and competition. But all this is just in a day's work for a writer. You can't put stuff out there without someone calling you a complete fool. Oh, well.""It's clear to me that there is no good reason for many philosophy books to sound as complicated as they do.""Kant and Hegel are interesting thinkers. But I am happy to insist that they are also terrible writers.""Pick up any newspaper or magazine, open the TV, and you'll be bombarded with suggestions of how to have a successful life. Some of these suggestions are deeply unhelpful to our own projects and priorities - and we should take care.""Status anxiety definitely exists at a political level. Many Iraqis were annoyed with the US essentially for reasons of status: for not showing them respect, for humiliating them.""The Arab-Israeli conflict is also in many ways a conflict about status: it's a war between two peoples who feel deeply humiliated by the other, who want the other to respect them. Battles over status can be even more intractable than those over land or water or oil.""We are certainly influenced by role models, and if we are surrounded by images of beautiful rich people, we will start to think that to be beautiful and rich is very important - just as in the Middle Ages, people were surrounded by images of religious piety.""We may seek a fortune for no greater reason than to secure the respect and attention of people who would otherwise look straight through us.""What is fascinating about marriage is why anyone wants to get married."
De Botton spent the first eight years of his life in Switzerland where he learned to speak French and German. He was sent to the Dragon School, a boarding school in Oxford, where he learned to speak English. He subsequently boarded at Harrow School. He achieved a double starred first in history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1988—1991) and completed his master's degree in philosophy at King's College London (1991—1992). He began a PhD in French philosophy at Harvard University, but gave up research to write books for a general public. He had also been a PhD candidate at King's College London.
De Botton has written in a variety of formats, and been met with mixed responses. Positive reviews of de Botton's books have claimed that he has made literature, philosophy and art more accessible to a wide audience. Negative reviews, however, have alleged that de Botton tends to state the obvious, and have characterized some of his books as pompous and lacking focus.
De Botton has written books of essays in which his own experiences and ideas are interwoven with those of artists, philosophers and thinkers. These have been called a "philosophy of everyday life."
In his first novel, Essays In Love (titled On Love in the US), published in 1993, De Botton deals with the process of falling in and out of love. The style of the book is unusual because it mixes elements of a novel with reflections and analyses normally found in non-fiction. In 2010, Essays in Love was adapted to film by director Julian Kemp for the romantic comedy My Last Five Girlfriends.
He received international recognition after the publication in 1997 of his first non-fiction work, How Proust Can Change Your Life. The book was based on the life and works of Marcel Proust. It is a mixture of a "self-help" envelope and analysis of one of the most revered but unread books in the Western canon, In Search of Lost Time. It was a bestseller in the U.S. and UK.
Proust 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. Though sometimes described as works of popularisation, Proust and Consolations were attempts to develop original ideas about friendship, art, envy, desire, and inadequacy, among other things, with the help of thoughts of other thinkers. 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, stay in hotels, and go to the countryside.
In Status Anxiety (2004), de Botton examines an almost universal anxiety that is rarely mentioned directly: what others think of us; about whether we're judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser.
In de Botton's second-most-recent book, The Architecture of Happiness (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 ends up defending Modernist architecture, and chastising the pseudo-vernacular architecture of housing, especially in 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.
In April 2009, de Botton published his latest book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, a survey of ten different jobs, including accountancy, rocket science and biscuit manufacture, which includes two hundred original images and aims to unlock the beauty, interest and occasional horror of the modern world of work.
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."
In August 2009, de Botton replied 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 duly 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.
Newspapers, lecturing and television
De Botton writes regular articles for several English newspapers, and from 1998 to 2000, wrote a regular column for The Independent on Sunday. He also travels extensively to lecture on his works. He owns and helps run his own production company, Seneca Productions, making television documentaries based on his works.
De Botton's project from 2008 is the School of Life — a new cultural enterprise based in central London offering intelligent instruction on how to lead a fulfilled life. In an interview with metkere.com 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.
In May 2009, de Botton was named as the chief inspiration for a new architecture project called Living Architecture — which proposes to build a series of innovative houses in the UK using leading contemporary architects. The architects include Peter Zumthor, MVRDV, JVA, NORD and Michael and Patti Hopkins. The houses will be rented out to the general public. De Botton's aim is to improve the appreciation of good contemporary architecture — and seems a practical continuation of his theoretical work on architecture in his book The Architecture of Happiness. In October 2009, de Botton was appointed an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, in recognition of his services to architecture.
De Botton comes from a Jewish family, originating from a small Castilian town of Boton (now vanished) on the Iberian peninsula.His father, Gilbert de Botton, co-founded Global Asset Management with Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild and Sir Mark Weinberg. When his father died, his family was left a trust fund of over £200 million. For his part, de Botton, has repeatedly claimed to live solely off the proceeds of his book sales. De Botton lives in London.