Congenial, refreshing, original—and mercifully succinct—de Botton may well achieve the impossible by making philosophy...


Having changed lives with the help of a French writer (How Proust Can Change Your Life, 1997), de Botton now seeks to offer those lives needed consolation—and specific advice—with the writings of some of the world's most illustrious philosophers.

If too many nowadays find thinkers Nietzsche and Schopenhauer stifling and irrelevant, they need only turn to this witty, engaging book to see how wrong they are. These men—de Botton also calls on Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, and Montaigne—were in their own sometimes abstruse ways actually giving some downtoearth, practical advice about how to cope with life's miseries and frustrations. De Botton is an able and companionable guide as he demonstrates, for example, how Socrates proves there are things far more consoling than popularity. He turns to Epicurus for advice on how to cope with not having enough money. Montaigne—clearly de Botton's darling among the group—has the most earthy advice. The great essayist soothes, even bolsters, his readers in the face of impotence, flatulence, and other errant bodily functions. Montaigne was a man who looked at life with a gimlet eye and saw through pretense. Friendship, the gentleman from Bordeaux declared, was the most important thing—that, and accepting yourself. The misanthrope Schopenhauer then steps forward to explain why people pick the wrong partners in love: the choice is based—subconsciously but definitively—on creating the best offspring. Realize that, and you'll see your bad marriage as completely logical. Finally, Nietzsche declares that we should be reconciled to suffering: ``We must learn to suffer whatever we cannot avoid.'' Or, as de Botton sums it up, ``Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us.'' De Botton applies these insights to contemporary situations, and he even writes about his own temporary impotence and subsequent cure by Montaigne. That's great consolation indeed.

Congenial, refreshing, original—and mercifully succinct—de Botton may well achieve the impossible by making philosophy popular.

Pub Date: April 28, 2000

ISBN: 0-679-44276-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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