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Friday, September 29, 2017

On Love (1993) by Alain de Botton


Book Review
On Love (1993)
by Alain de Botton

  Alain de Botton is a oddity- a French style "public intellectual" of a type almost unknown in America for the past half century- a writer with opinions, based on philosophy, about how one might live in the modern world.   To a cynical eye, you might say he is a high falutin lifestyle guru- and the fact that his "Ted Talk" is on the first page of his Google search return is telling.  For those reasons, I like but don't love Botton. Even though I don't know anyone outside of my current partner who has one of his books on the shelve, I would be vaguely embarrassed to admit that I was a fan.

  That said, I find myself quietly nodding my head every two to three pages of any Botton written work I dig into.  His brand of philosophy leans heavy on classical Stoicism and his methods and style hearken back to the tradition of  Plato and Aristotle. Adapted for the 20th and 21st century literary marketplace, of course.  This background is clear even in On Love- his first, and basically (barring a sequel) only novel- and his biggest hit- a book that sold hundreds of thousands of copies across the world and gave him the audience for his true calling of life as a public intellectual/pop philosopher.

  On Love shows some of that philosophical heritage- writing a novel in numbered paragraphs strikes me as something only a classically trained philosopher would do (though that particular tradition dates to 19th century analytic philosophy.)  I'm sure On Love made the 1001 Books list simply because it is his only novel, not his best work.  For my money, that would be the Consolations of Philosophy, which I've kept on the shelf for two decades.  The idea of prostituting philosophy for the marketplace is controversial.  Really the only people in this country who care about philosophy are academics, so Botton took this leap of popularizing philosophy, but I think he deserved to be acclaimed, not criticized.  Better Botton than nothing at all, that's what I say.

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