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The Consolations of Philosophy (Vintage International) [Paperback]

By Alain de Botton (Author)
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Item description for The Consolations of Philosophy (Vintage International) by Alain de Botton...

The author of How Proust Can Change Your Life returns with another attempt to make philosophy useful, using the great philosophers to heal a variety of psychic ailments--from loneliness to illness to anxiety over losing one's job. Reprint. 40,000 first printing.

Publishers Description
From the internationally heralded author of How Proust Can Change Your Life comes this remarkable new book that presents the wisdom of some of the greatest thinkers of the ages as advice for our day to day struggles.

Solace for the broken heart can be found in the words of Schopenhauer. The ancient Greek Epicurus has the wisest, and most affordable, solution to cash flow problems. A remedy for impotence lies in Montaigne. Seneca offers advice upon losing a job. And Nietzsche has shrewd counsel for everything from loneliness to illness. The Consolations of Philosophy is a book as accessibly erudite as it is useful and entertaining.

“Thank heavens for Alain de Botton…. [He] breezily, humorously, incisively…puts his readers at ease, without a hint of condescension.”–Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer

Alain de Botton is the author of On Love, The Romantic Movement, Kiss and Tell, and How Proust Can Change Your Life (available in paperback from Vintage Books). His work has been translated into twenty languages. He lives in Washington, D.C., and London, where he is a director of the Graduate Philosophy Program at London University.

From the Hardcover edition.
Consolations for Unpopularity

A few years ago, during a bitter New York winter, with an afternoon to spare before catching a flight to London, I found myself in a deserted gallery on the upper level of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was brightly lit, and aside from the soothing hum of an under-floor heating system, entirely silent. Having reached a surfeit of paintings in the Impressionist galleries, I was looking for a sign for the cafeteria -- where I hoped to buy a glass of a certain variety of American chocolate milk of which I was at that time extremely fond -- when my eye was caught by a canvas which a caption explained had been painted in Paris in the autumn of 1786 by the thirty-eight-year-old Jacques-Louis David.

Socrates, condemned to death by the people of Athens, prepares to drink a cup of hemlock, surrounded by woebegone friends. In the spring of 399 BC, three Athenian citizens had brought legal proceedings against the philosopher. They had accused him of failing to worship the city's gods, of introducing religious novelties and of corrupting the young men of Athens -- and such was the severity of their charges, they had called for the death penalty.

Socrates had responded with legendary equanimity. Though afforded an opportunity to renounce his philosophy in court, he had sided with what he believed to be true rather than what he knew would be popular. In Plato's account he had defiantly told the jury:
So long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practising philosophy and exhorting you and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet . . . And so gentlemen . . . whether you acquit me or not, you know that I am not going to alter my conduct, not even if I have to die a hundred deaths. And so he had been led to meet his end in an Athenian jail, his death marking a defining moment in the history of philosophy.

An indication of its significance may be the frequency with which it has been painted. In 1650 the French painter Charles-Alphonse Dufresnoy produced a Death of Socrates, now hanging in the Galleria Palatina in Florence (which has no cafeteria).

The eighteenth century witnessed the zenith of interest in Socrates' death, particularly after Diderot drew attention to its painterly potential in a passage in his Treatise on Dramatic Poetry.

Jacques-Louis David received his commission in the spring of 1786 from Charles-Michel Trudaine de la Sablière, a wealthy member of the Parlement and a gifted Greek scholar. The terms were generous, 6,000 livres upfront, with a further 3,000 on delivery (Louis XVI had paid only 6,000 livres for the larger Oath of the Horatii). When the picture was exhibited at the Salon of 1787, it was at once judged the finest of the Socratic ends. Sir Joshua Reynolds thought it 'the most exquisite and admirable effort of art which has appeared since the Cappella Sistina, and the Stanze of Raphael. The picture would have done honour to Athens in the age of Pericles.'

I bought five postcard Davids in the museum gift-shop and later, flying over the ice fields of Newfoundland (turned a luminous green by a full moon and a cloudless sky), examined one while picking at a pale evening meal left on the table in front of me by a stewardess during a misjudged snooze.

Plato sits at the foot of the bed, a pen and a scroll beside him, silent witness to the injustice of the state. He had been twenty-nine at the time of Socrates' death, but David turned him into an old man, grey-haired and grave. Through the passageway, Socrates' wife, Xanthippe, is escorted from the prison cell by warders. Seven friends are in various stages of lamentation. Socrates' closest companion Crito, seated beside him, gazes at the master with devotion and concern. But the philosopher, bolt upright, with an athlete's torso and biceps, shows neither apprehension nor regret. That a large number of Athenians have denounced him as foolish has not shaken him in his convictions. David had planned to paint Socrates in the act of swallowing poison, but the poet André Chenier suggested that there would be greater dramatic tension if he was shown finishing a philosophical point while at the same time reaching serenely for the hemlock that would end his life, symbolizing both obedience to the laws of Athens and allegiance to his calling. We are witnessing the last edifying moments of a transcendent being.

If the postcard struck me so forcefully, it was perhaps because the behaviour it depicted contrasted so sharply with my own. In conversations, my priority was to be liked, rather than to speak the truth. A desire to please led me to laugh at modest jokes like a parent on the opening night of a school play. With strangers, I adopted the servile manner of a concierge greeting wealthy clients in a hotel -- salival enthusiasm born of a morbid, indiscriminate desire for affection. I did not publicly doubt ideas to which the majority was committed. I sought the approval of figures of authority and after encounters with them, worried at length whether they had thought me acceptable. When passing through customs or driving alongside police cars, I harboured a confused wish for the uniformed offcials to think well of me.

But the philosopher had not buckled before unpopularity and the condemnation of the state. He had not retracted his thoughts because others had complained. Moreover, his confidence had sprung from a more profound source than hot-headedness or bull-like courage. It had been grounded in philosophy. Philosophy had supplied Socrates with convictions in which he had been able to have rational, as opposed to hysterical, confidence when faced with disapproval.

That night, above the ice lands, such independence of mind was a revelation and an incitement. It promised a counterweight to a supine tendency to follow socially sanctioned practices and ideas. In Socrates' life and death lay an invitation to intelligent scepticism.

And more generally, the subject of which the Greek philosopher was the supreme symbol seemed to offer an invitation to take on a task at once profound and laughable: to become wise through philosophy. In spite of the vast differences between the many thinkers described as philosophers across time (people in actuality so diverse that had they been gathered together at a giant cocktail party, they would not only have had nothing to say to one another, but would most probably have come to blows after a few drinks), it seemed possible to discern a small group of men, separated by centuries, sharing a loose allegiance to a vision of philosophy suggested by the Greek etymology of the word -- philo, love; sophia, wisdom -- a group bound by a common interest in saying a few consoling and practical things about the causes of our greatest griefs. It was to these men I would turn.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Vintage
Pages   264
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.02" Width: 5.27" Height: 0.55"
Weight:   0.55 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 3, 2001
Publisher   Vintage
ISBN  0679779175  
ISBN13  9780679779179  

Availability  31 units.
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More About Alain de Botton

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Alain de Botton (b.1969) is the author of bestselling books in more than 30 countries, including The Consolations of Philosophy, How Proust Can Change Your Life, Status Anxiety, and most recently Religion for Atheists. He founded The School of Life in London in 2008, which supplies good ideas for everyday life in the form of courses, classes, workshops and talks. In 2009 he founded Living Architecture, which aims to make high‐quality architecture accessible to everyone.

John Armstrong (b.1966) is a British philosopher and art historian based at Melbourne University. He is the author of five well‐received books, including The Intimate Philosophy of Art, Conditions of Love: The Philosophy of Intimacy, and In Search of Civilisation: Remaking a Tarnished Idea.


Alain de Botton currently resides in Washington, in the state of District Of Columbia. Alain de Botton was born in 1969.

Alain de Botton has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Vintage International

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body > Self-Help > Personal Transformation
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > General
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > History & Surveys

Reviews - What do customers think about The Consolations of Philosophy (Vintage International)?

For plain folk like me  Jun 14, 2008
This book did two things for me: First, it brought back my respect for philosophy as an effort to get oneself right with the world. Second, it caused to bring philosophy back into the mix of therapeutic psychology books I've sought out at various stages of life. The book is a great little down-to-earth explanation of how philosophy is, at its best, still an avenue toward finding meaning in life, not simply an esoteric or over-intellectualized mental sport. It explains how each philosopher connected personally not abstractly to the ideas he pondered. It's especially useful for an aging secular soul like me, but it also appealed to my son who is in his late 20s. I wish a book like this had been part of the mix in the intro philosophy course I took and fled when I was in college. As for my own favorite philosopher at this stage in my life, of course it's Dr. Peanut! Nutty to Meet You! Dr. Peanut Book #1
Better Living Thought Philosophy  Jun 2, 2008
Better living thought, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Montaigne, Socrates, Epicurus, and Seneca. Alain de Botton accounts of six great philosophers, and what they bring to an individual in modern times. Good read.
Doesn't pack a punch, but a good starting point for further reading  May 21, 2008
According to Schopenhauer, the universal feeling of "Love" is a topic that gets short shrift by philosophers because it "violates man's rational self image". In what he calls "the will-to-life - defined as an inherent drive within human beings to stay alive and reproduce," Schopenhauer explains why opposites attract, and how the conscience mind is subservient to the unconscious mind "and unable to learn of all its plans." The unconscious mind is governed by "the will-to-life".

"Consolations of Philosophy" may give the reader a new perspective on feeling unpopular, having low economic status, feeling frustrated or inadequate, experiencing a broken heart or lovelessness. Alain de Botton includes ideas from the philosophers he deemed as best qualified to console those suffering from these social maladies.

The appeal of "Consolations of Philosophy" lies in its simplicity. Most philosophy books are written for philosophers. This book was written in easy to understand text for novice readers. For those who have not studied in depth the lives and ideas of great thinkers in Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, this is a decent start. This book is also a respectable start for others who wish to ease their suffering or gain a new perspective on various personal conflicts. It doesn't pack the punch to change lives, but it whets the appetite nicely for further reading. Alain de Botton's talent lies in bringing philosophy concepts to the masses.
pleasant surprise from philosophy  Apr 25, 2008
Made me see that the concerns of some the greatest thinkers in history are concerns that I encounter everyday. I came to understand that philosophy has very practical and quite mundane applications that may apply to sweeping the floor or paying the bills or deciding where to live. The information is exhaustive but the language is very much attainable. Not at all what I thought reading about philosophy would be like. A pleasant surprise.
Good Content, Weak Style (for a popular book)  Nov 20, 2007
Despite title's reservations, I enjoyed Chapter 4 which is essentially what Montaigne advised on how to understand and use knowledge. Scabs and Arses, Scabs and Arses! =-)

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