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.