Alain de Botton is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries.
Alain started writing at a young age. His first book, Essays in Love, was published when he was twenty-three. It minutely analysed the process of falling in and out of love, in a style that mixed elements of a novel together with reflections and analyses normally found in a piece of non-fiction. It’s a book of which many readers are still fondest and it has sold two million copies worldwide.
It was with How Proust can change your Life that Alain’s work reached a truly global audience. The book was a particular success in the United States, where the mixture of an ironic ‘self-help’ envelope and an analysis of one of the most revered but unread books in the Western canon struck a chord. It was followed by The Consolations of Philosophy, to which it was in many ways an accompaniment. Though sometimes described as popularisations, these two books were at heart attempts to develop original ideas (about, for example, friendship, art, envy, desire and inadequacy) with the help of the thoughts from other thinkers – an approach that would have been familiar to writers like Seneca or Montaigne and that disappeared only with the growing professionalisation of scholarship in the 19th century.
Alain then returned to a more lyrical, personal style of writing. In The Art of Travel, he looked at themes in the psychology of travel: how we imagine places before we have seen them, how we remember beautiful things, what happens to us when we look at deserts, or stay in hotels or go to the countryside. In Status Anxiety, he examined an almost universal anxiety that is rarely mentioned directly: the anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we’re judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain discussed questions…of beauty and ugliness in architecture. Much of the book was written at de Botton’s home in West London, just near Shepherd’s Bush roundabout, one of the uglier man-made places, which nevertheless provided helpful examples of how important it is to get architecture right.
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work saw Alain travelling across the world for two years with a photographer in tow, looking at people in their workplaces and reflecting on the great themes of work: why do we do it? How can it be more bearable? What is a meaningful life? The book is at once lyrical and gripping like a novel can be, and yet also packed with ideas and analysis.
In the summer of 2009, Alain was appointed Heathrow’s first Writer-in-Residence and wrote a book about his experiences, A Week at the Airport.
Aside from writing, de Botton has been involved in making a number of television documentaries – and now helps to run a production company, Seneca Productions.
In the summer of 2008, Alain realised a life-long dream when he helped to launch a miniature ‘university’ called The School of Life – which emulates the spirit of enquiry and playfulness found in his books and which aims not only to discuss life, but also change it for the better. Following on in this entrepreneurial vein, Alain has also helped to start a new organisation called Living Architecture which is building world-class modern architecture for rental around the UK.
In 2009, Alain de Botton was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, in recognition of his services to architecture.
Able to discuss universal emotions, the human condition and philosophy of life, all audiences can learn something from Alain’s in-depth speeches.
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