Alain de Botton, FRSL (; born 20 December 1969) is a Swiss-born British author. 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).
He co-founded The School of Life in 2008 and Living Architecture in 2009. In 2015, he was awarded "The Fellowship of Schopenhauer", an annual writers' award from the Melbourne Writers Festival, for this work.
Early life and family
De Botton was born in Zurich, the son of Jacqueline (née Burgauer) and Gilbert de Botton, who was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and expelled under Nasser. Gilbert 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. Alain de Botton's Swiss-born mother was Ashkenazi, and his father was from a Sephardic Jewish family from the town of Boton[clarification needed] in Castile and León.
De Botton's ancestors include Abraham de Boton. De Botton's paternal grandmother was Yolande Harmer. He has one sister, Miel, and they received a secular upbringing. Alain spent the first twelve years of his life in Switzerland where he was brought up speaking French and German.
He was sent to the Dragon School, a boarding school in Oxford, where English became his primary language. Describing himself as a shy child, he boarded at Harrow School, before going up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he read History (1988–1991) and subsequently completed a master's degree (MPhil) in Philosophy at King's College, London (1991–1992). He began studying for a PhD in French philosophy at Harvard University, but gave up this research to write books for the general public.
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. De Botton wrote a sequel to Essays in Love, published in 2016, titled The Course of Love.
In 1997 he published his first non-fiction book, How Proust Can Change Your Life, based on the life and works of Marcel Proust. It was a bestseller in both the US and UK.
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 (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."
In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009), 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. He later apologized for his remarks.
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 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.
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". 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".
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 which appeared in Status Anxiety.
Newspapers, lecturing and television
De Botton used to write articles for several English newspapers, and from 1998 to 2000, wrote a regular column for The Independent on Sunday. He travels extensively to lecture and has his own production company, Seneca Productions, which makes television documentaries based upon his works. He has given lectures at TED conferences. 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. In July 2009, he spoke at Oxford University about the philosophy of failure and success, and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments.
Reception of his writing
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.
Negative reviews allege that de Botton tends to state the obvious and have characterized some of his books as pompous and lacking focus.
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.
The School of Life
In 2008, Alain de Botton founded The School of Life. Based in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Seoul, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, São Paulo, Berlin, Zurich and Melbourne, The School of Life offers an emotional education focusing in particular on the issues of Work and Relationships. 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 launched a project called "Living Architecture" – 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 which is the 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.
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.
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." When his father died, his family was left a large trust fund, although de Botton says his income is derived solely from his own activities (book sales, speaking engagements, business consulting, The School of Life). Alain's stepmother Janet de Botton is a prominent patron of the arts and competition bridge player. De Botton lives in London with his wife, Charlotte, and their two children.
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.
|Ancestors of Alain de Botton|
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
- De Botton, Alain (1993). Essays in love. London: Macmillan.
- — (1993). On love. New York: Grove Press. Variant title in USA.
- — (1994) . Essays in love. Paperback reprint. London: Picador.
- — (2006). Essays in love. Revised ed. London: Picador.
- — (2015) . 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
- Hamilton, Ben (4 January 2014). "The healing art". Books. The Spectator. 324 (9671): 23–24. Review of Art as therapy.
- Socrates on Self-Confidence
- Epicurus on Happiness
- Seneca on Anger
- Montaigne on Self-Esteem
- Schopenhauer on Love
- Nietzsche on Hardship (featuring Cathal Grealish)
In 2011 he presented a series of talks for the BBC Radio 4 series A Point of View.
- ^Staff. "Sunday Times Rich List". Thesundaytimes.co.uk. Retrieved 7 February 2014. , 1999 Sunday Times Rich List now behind a paywall
- ^"Gilbert de Botton", The Telegraph, obituaries, 30 August 2000.
- ^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.
- ^de Botton, Alain (24 December 2011). "An atheist at Christmas: Oh come all ye faithless". The Guardian. London.
- ^"King's College London - Notable alumni". Kcl.ac.uk. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
- ^New York, Alain de Botton, Volume 35, New York Magazine Co., 2002, page 90[ISBN missing]
- ^The Real World: Alain de Botton, philosopher, writer and TV presenter, The Independent
- ^"Tribeca Film - MY LAST FIVE GIRLFRIENDS". tribecafilm.com. New York. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
- ^"Author of The Art of Travel talks with Robert Birnbaum", identitytheory.com
- ^"Interview with Alain de Botton"Archived 5 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine., writerspace.com; accessed 26 February 2014.
- ^"AOL interviews Alain de Botton about The Architecture of Happiness", lifestyle.aol.ca
- ^"Official Bio". Alain de Botton.
- ^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.
- ^Neyfakh, Leon (1 July 2009). "Is Alain de Botton Sorry About Angry Comment Left On Critic's Blog?". Observer. London. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- ^The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Page 328
- ^The Philosophers Magazine ISSUE # 57 Page 26
- ^"Art as Therapy", cooper.edu; accessed 26 February 2014.
- ^The Architecture of Happiness, Official Website
- ^"Alain de Botton: Philosopher". TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. TED Conferences, LLC, 330 Hudson St. 11th Floor, New York, NY 10013: TED Conferences, LLC. 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
- ^Ted.com, TED Talks|Alain De Botton: Atheism 2.0
- ^Ted.com, TED Talks|Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success; accessed 26 February 2014.
- ^"The Consolations of Philosophy". www.complete-review.com. Archived from the original on 16 April 2010. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
- ^"Philosophy for a night out at the Dog and Duck". London, UK: The Independent. 3 April 2000. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
- ^Hamilton, Fiona; Coates, Sam; Savage, Michael (March 2002). "Financial alarm under the palms". London, UK: Times Literary Supplement. Archived from the original on 2013-05-05. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
- ^"Why it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive". Evening Standard. May 2002. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
- ^Conrad, Peter (9 April 2000). "When Nietzsche meets Delia Smith". London, UK: guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
- ^Charlie Brooker (January 2005). "The art of drivel". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
- ^"Flaccid fallacies". London, UK: guardian.co.uk. 25 March 2000. Archived from the original on 23 April 2009. Retrieved 20 March 2009.
- ^Jim Holt (10 December 2006). "Dream Houses". New York Times. Retrieved 6 April 2008.
- ^Mark Lamster. "Bring Back the Bluebird". www.id-mag.com. Archived from the original on 13 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2009.
- ^Naomi Wolf (March 2009). "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton". London: The Times. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
- ^Aitkenhead, Decca (3 April 2011). "How can you be a militant atheist? It's like sleeping furiously". London, UK: The Guardian. Archived from the original on 1 May 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- ^Nagy, Kim. "The Art of Connection – A Conversation with Alain de Botton", Wild River Review, 19 November 2007.
- ^"Alain de Botton: I would advise a friend to travel alone (metkere.com/en)". metkere.com.
- ^"Living Architecture".
- ^"Alain de Botton's Living Architecture Project". Buildingdesign.com.
Alain has long been passionate about modern architecture. As well as writing a book on the subject, he has been instrumental in starting a social enterprise called Living Architecture dedicated to the promotion and enjoyment of world-class architecture.
Living Architecture has asked a series of great architects to build houses around the UK and has made these available to rent for holidays all year round.
The inspiration for Living Architecture came from a desire for people to be able to experience what it is like to live, eat and sleep in a space designed by an outstanding architectural practice. Whilst there are examples of great modern buildings in Britain, they tend to be in places that one passes through (eg. airports, museums, offices), and the few modern houses that exist are almost all in private hands and cannot be visited.
For information and news about the houses and to book a stay, please see the Living Architecture website.