The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

[Originally published on 24.11.2008 on my old site]


Last Thursday marked World Philosophy Day and in the spirit of this I’m going to run through some of the reasons why you really should try reading some philosophy. At the same time I’m also introduce you to a book which i feel serves as a perfect introduction to what can be a bewildering and frightening subject.

Taking a course of both media studies and philosophy at sixth form i landed a fair bit of stick about not doing “real subjects.”

Most peoples idea of philosophy seemed to be that of a load of half mad scholars sat around pulling half baked ideas about the meaning of life out of thin air.

This couldn’t be further from the reality…OK there are a good number of half mad scholars, but the art of philosophy itself is proving that the half baked ideas really make sense and can in fact change our entire view of life.

It is the science of thought, and the best philosophy makes absolute perfect logical sense.

So where to start reading philosophy? you could start with the father of it all, Plato, but unless you’ve got a good teacher or some kind of guide to the text it could all seem like Greek (my sincerest apologies) to you.

The book i recommend you start with is The Consolations Of Philosophy by Alain de Botton.

Whats refreshing about it is that is totally demystifies the whole subject by showing how some of history’s greatest thinkers can relate to your life and help out with such common problems as feeling frustrated, inadequate or unpopular.

Coupled with this is de Bottons clear and entertaining writing style which seems to stop philosophy feeling at all like hard work and keeps it continually interesting. This is opposed to some more traditional philosophical texts which can be so off putting and scary to read that even if it is a work of complete genius reading it becomes a form of torture.

Another fantastic part of the book is the sheer amount of pictures in it. In most philosophy the best you can expect is a scruffy diagram of Plato’s cave drawn by someone with as much artistic flair as a colourblind rhino. The Consolations on the other hand is full of pictures which simultaneously illustrate his point and often convey the authors sense of humour. Jacques-Louis Davids “Death of Socrates” sits alongside a photo of the authors favourite brand of chocolate milkshake.

The only criticism i can lay at it is…well at a stretch I could say it doesn’t go as deep into the philosophical arguments as I’d like but for most people who are new to philosophy it probably covers just the right amount. Other than that…its pretty perfect, its a thoroughly good read for anyone and a perfect introduction to philosophy in general.

In short, go read it.

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