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Alain de Botton
at the
complete review:

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Name: Alain DE BOTTON
Nationality: Swiss/British
Born: 20 December 1969

  • Born in Switzerland
  • Attended Cambridge University

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.
Dates given are of first publication.

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What others have to
say about
Alain de Botton:

  • "Invoking truths universally acknowledged and conveniently packaged in freeze-dried chunks, de Botton's prose sometimes smacks of a fast recipe to add citations and stir. His learnedness can be risibly misplaced (.....) This lack of restraint is especially unfortunate, since it mars the author's less affected musings; his observations can be original and sagacious, delivered in unstrained aphorisms and desultory digressions." - Andrea Ashworth, Times Literary Supplement (15/9/1995)

  • "If you had to extract A Good Idea from Alain de Botton, it would be that literature and philosophy can offer ordinary people a richer, more complete understanding of their own experience. This has not been a fashionable line for a long time, which helps to account for the freshness of How Proust Can Change Your Life," - Robert Hanks, The Independent (3/4/2000)

  • "It's not often that an author single-handedly invents a genre, but Alain de Botton pulled the rabbit out of the hat in 1997 with How Proust Can Change Your Life. That unlikely best-seller combined the toniest of topics, Marcel Proust, with the sort of books we might associate with Dr. Laura Schlessinger. The literary self-help book was born." - Daniel Blue, San Francisco Chronicle (28/5/2000)

  • "Most philosophers, in my experience, write a modicum of rubbish, and de Botton is no exception. He is a genuine master of the truism, a virtuoso of the obvious. I doubt if he has written a dull sentence in his life, but when he draws didactic conclusions, or talks about motives and suchlike, he does sometimes put one toe over the fringe of bunkum." - Jan Morris, New Statesman (6/5/2002)

  • "There's an easy charm to de Botton's writing, pleasure to be had in its intellectual-order and civilised tidiness." - Melanie McGrath, Evening Standard (13/5/2002)

  • "De Botton is a white mouse of sensitivity. Tiny deviations from his familiar world (...) excite him for the depth of their cultural implications." - Colin Thubron, The Times (15/5/2002)

  • "All de Botton's books, fiction and non- fiction, deal with how thought and specifically philosophy might help us deal better with the challenges of quotidian life -- returning philosophy to its simple, sound origins. (...) Because he is in spirit an artist and craftsman rather than a storyteller (as well as a kind of inspired curator of the past), this revisiting of themes isn't repetitious but enriching, like Monet's revisiting of waterlilies. The new form de Botton has forged is in tune with the times: linked, finely honed essays within which voices from the past" - Annette Kobak, Times Literary Supplement (31/5/2002)

  • "But he has a nice line in bathos too, and some of his humorous effects (...) are almost certainly deliberate. Most of the time, though, de Botton seems largely concerned with conforming to the stereotype of the neurasthenic intellectual." - Christopher Tayler, London Review of Books (22/8/2002)

  • "Alain de Botton is the kind of public intellectual our debased culture deserves. This prince of précis, this queen of quotation, pastes together entire books by citing and then restating in inferior prose the ideas of great writers from centuries gone by. Aping the forms of philosophical thought in tones of complacent condescension, he provides for his readers the comforting sensation of reading something profound at little cost of mental effort." - Steven Poole, The Guardian (27/3/2004)

  • "The source of his success is his eccentric but ingratiating style: where other media-minded intellectuals offer their readers a diet of know-it-all certitudes garnished with sarcasm and raucous indignation, de Botton is always solicitous, unopinionated and self-deprecating. Like all good philosophers, he keeps well clear of polemic. The brand is well established by now. A book by de Botton will be illustrated with an engrossing assortment of photos, charts, lists and diagrams, many of them conspicuously odd or amateurish. It will seem less like a magisterial treatise than a child's holiday scrapbook. His prose will be attractive, but never mannered or pretentious, and his sporadic attempts to tie things together with formal "theses" and "definitions" need not be taken too seriously." - Jonathan Rée, Times Literary Supplement (14/5/2004)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Clever writing
  • De Botton is well-read and culturally aware -- all of which he brings to bear in his writing
  • Playful style and sense of humour

  • Predictable approach in books
  • Terribly self-reflective
  • Philosophical pretensions
  • Appears to have forsaken fiction

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the complete review's Opinion

     Alain de Botton is still ridiculously young. Born in 1969, he wrote several modestly successful novels before his international breakout book (pointedly described as "not a novel"), How Proust can change your Life.
     All of de Botton's books, fiction or not, are essayistic, impressionistic, introspective, and analytic. The fun, and de Botton's great talent, is in the quirky approach he takes and especially the comparisons and connexions he makes. De Botton is familiar with a great deal of classical literature and art, but he is also a boy of contemporary pop culture, and he feels comfortable applying either or both, where appropriate (often in places where it might not have occurred to readers that it was appropriate).
     Humour is also always prominent: de Botton has a nice light, often self-deflating touch and takes almost nothing too seriously.
     De Botton (or a first person alter ego) almost always appears in his books -- a prominent presence (and not always an entirely welcome one). The self-reflective aspect of his writings doesn't always work ideally, but there's a certain appeal to the appearance of the author baring himself to his audience.
     De Botton's books are fairly clever -- and not merely because they (or at least he) give the appearance of being learned, bringing together wise men's words and thoughts from times long past, along with modern commonplaces.
     How Proust can change your Life remains both de Botton's greatest success and his best book, but it's unfortunate that he has stuck himself in this non-fiction rut (four books and counting since the last novel): his talents, and his clever, witty, essayistic-exposé approach lend themselves best to fiction. (Presumably, non-fiction is easier to sell a larger public.) It's unclear also whether he can expand his reach and write a different kind of book (any different kind of book) or whether this is the only thing he's capable of. But he's still a young kid, and possibly has much left in him. We're curious to see how (and if) he develops.

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Alain de Botton: Alain de Botton's books at the complete review: See also:
  • Index of other Author Pages at the complete review
  • Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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