A lyrical and generously illustrated monograph about the intimate relationship between our buildings and ourselves.


Graceful disquisition on the significance of architecture, by a novelist and essayist whose eclectic interests range from How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997) to Status Anxiety (2004).

In what may be the only contemporary volume on architecture that doesn’t discuss Frank Lloyd Wright, de Botton sticks to the basics. He deals with questions of style, ideas of beauty, notions about why certain structures appeal to us. One of the most engaging chapters discusses the elements that beautiful buildings require: order, balance, elegance, coherence and self-knowledge. The author argues that we love beautiful buildings because they solidify ideas we have about ourselves and our world. They put into concrete form our aspirations; they compensate for our human weaknesses; in short, they make us happy. He believes that favored architectural styles change because of the “manifold nature of our inner needs.” The author moves easily through historical periods, through fashions and fads, through architects many have heard of (Louis Sullivan) to those known principally to professionals (Michael Hopkins). He offers photographic backup for just about every point he makes and every concept he wishes to elucidate. He is adept, as well, at pointing out relationships between architecture and writing, architecture and painting. He keeps his tone personal and amiable, especially in a vivid section about a recent sojourn in Japan, where he’d hoped to see in contemporary buildings more allusions to the country’s traditional and historical styles. Evident throughout is the author’s fine craftsmanship. Virtually every page contains a sentence any essayist would be proud to have written. Considering the concept of elegance, de Botton writes, “We delight in complexity to which genius has lent an appearance of simplicity.” Gentle affection pervades these pages, as does knowledge of architecture that is both broad and deep.

A lyrical and generously illustrated monograph about the intimate relationship between our buildings and ourselves. (To be a three-part PBS series, Fall 2006)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-375-42443-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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