Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton, (born 20 December 1969 in Zurich, Switzerland) is a British writer and television producer of Swiss Jewish extraction. His books and television programmes discuss various subjects in a somewhat philosophical style while maintaining relevance to everyday life. In August 2008, he was a founder member of a maverick new educational establishment in central London called The School of Life.

Personal life

Alain's family originates from a small Castilian town of Boton (now vanished) on the Iberian peninsula. They left in 1492, along with the rest of the Sephardic Jewish community, and eventually settled in Alexandria, Egypt, where de Botton's father was born. He has one sister, Miel, a psychologist in Paris.

He currently lives in Hammersmith, West London, with his wife Charlotte, whom he married in 2003, and their sons Samuel and Saul.

Early life and education

De Botton is the son of Gilbert de Botton, art collector and financier who founded Global Asset Management and his first wife, Jacqueline Burgauer. The writer spent the first eight years of his life in Switzerland, where he learned to speak French and German. He was sent to boarding school at the Dragon School in Oxford, where he learned to speak English. His family later moved to London when he was 12.

De Botton was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and Harrow School in London. He achieved a double starred first in history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1988–1991), and completed his masters degree in philosophy at King's College London (1991–1992).

He began a Ph.D in French philosophy at Harvard University, but gave up research to write fiction. He had also been a PhD candidate at King's College London. De Botton owns and helps run his own production company, Seneca Productions, which regularly broadcasts television documentaries based on his works.


De Botton has written essayistic books, which refer both to his own experiences and ideas interwoven with those of artists, philosophers, and thinkers. It is a style of writing that has been referred to as a "philosophy of everyday life. His books are published in 20 languages.

In his first novel, Essays In Love (titled On Love in the US) published in 1993, De Botton deals with the process of falling in and out of love. The style of the book was unusual, because it mixed elements of a novel together with reflections and analyses normally found in a piece of non-fiction.

He didn't, however, receive world-wide recognition until after the publication of his first non-fiction work, How Proust Can Change Your Life, in 1997. The book was based on the life and works of Marcel Proust. It is a mixture of a "self-help" envelope and analysis of one of the most revered but unread books in the Western canon. It was a bestseller in the US and UK.

It was followed by The Consolations of Philosophy. Though sometimes described as works of popularisation, these two books were attempts to develop original ideas about friendship, art, envy, desire, and inadequacy, among other things, with the help of thoughts of other thinkers. The title of the book is a reference to Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, in which philosophy appears as an allegorical figure to Boethius to console him in the period leading up to his impending execution. In The Consolations of Philosophy, de Botton attempts to demonstrate how the teachings of philosophers such as Epicurus, Montaigne, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Seneca, and Socrates can be applied to modern everyday woes, such as unpopularity, feelings of inadequacy, financial worries, broken hearts, and the general problem of suffering. The book has been both praised and criticized for its therapeutic approach to philosophy.

De Botton 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 see 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 de Botton's latest book, The Architecture of Happiness he discusses the nature of beauty in architecture, and how it is related to the well-being and general contentment of the individual and society. He describes how architecture affects us every day, even though we rarely pay particular attention to it. Also, a good portion of the book discusses how human personality traits are reflected in architecture.

In response to a question about whether he felt “pulled” to be a writer he responded:

"So, I think where people tend to end up results from a combination of encouragement, accident, and lucky break, etc. etc. Like many others, my career happened like it did because certain doors opened and certain doors closed. You know, at a certain point I thought it would be great to make film documentaries. Well, in fact, I found that to be incredibly hard and very expensive to do and I didn’t really have the courage to keep battling away at that. In another age, I might have been an academic in a university, if the university system had been different. So, it’s all about trying to find the best fit between your talents and what the world can offer at that point in time.

He writes regular columns for several English newspapers, including The Independent on Sunday. He also travels extensively to lecture on his works.

School of Life

De Botton's most recent project is the School of Life — a new cultural enterprise based in central London offering intelligent instruction on how to lead a fulfilled life. In an interview with Alain de Botton said:

The idea is to challenge traditional universities and reorganise knowledge, directing it towards life, and away from knowledge for its own sake. In a modest way, it’s an institution that is trying to give people what universities should I think always give them: a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture.



TV series

Popular cultural references

A fictional podcast by Alain De Botton was mentioned in the avant garde sitcom Peep Show.

In Episode 3 of Series 4, Credit manager Mark Corrigan said he got his "brain training from Sudoku and Alain de Botton's weekly podcast."

The weekly podcast does not, in fact, exist.


"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 April 2000)

"Comforting, but meaningless. In seeking to popularise philosophy, Alain de Botton has merely trivialised it, smoothing the discipline into a series of silly sound bites. ... [De Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy] is bad because the conception of philosophy that it promotes is a decadent one, and can only mislead readers as to the true nature of the discipline."—Edward Skidelsky, New Statesman (27 March 2000)

"Academic philosophy in the United States has virtually abandoned the attempt to speak to the culture at large, but philosophy professors are doing something of incredible importance: they are trying to get things right. That is the thread that connects them back to Socrates -- even if they are not willing to follow him into the marketplace -- and that is the thread that The Consolations of Philosophy cuts. ...[L]et's face it, this isn't philosophy."—Jonathan Lear, "The Socratic Method", New York Times (14 May 2000)

"In the culture of the market economy, we miss the fact that philosophy is valuable in and by itself.... It is deeply dispiriting, then, that the latest attempt to popularize philosophy [De Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy] - that is to say, to make philosophy into televisual fodder - does so precisely on the basis that philosophers can provide us with useful tips.... This is not the dumbing down of philosophy, it is a dumbing out. Nothing in this travesty deserves its title; Boethius must be turning in his grave."—Mary Margaret McCabe, "Who wants to be a millionaire?", Times Literary Supplement (23 June 2000)

"There's an easy charm to de Botton's writing, pleasure to be had in its intellectual order and civilized tidiness."—Melanie McGrath, Evening Standard (13 May 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."—Annette Kobak, Times Literary Supplement (31 May 2002)

"[De Botton] has produced a meandering, pompous disquisition that betrays an autodidact’s haphazard sense of the field, but with little of the original thinking that might be expected from an outsider. ... The Architecture of Happiness would be an innocuous castoff if not for its proselytizing ambitions (it has so far spawned a PBS miniseries) and a set of rather insidious ideas camouflaged in its twee prose."—Mark Lamster, I.D. Magazine (January / February 2007)

"... he's an absolute pair-of-aching-balls of a man - a slapheaded, ruby-lipped pop philosopher who's forged a lucrative career stating the bleeding obvious in a series of poncey, lighter-than-air books aimed at smug Sunday supplement pseuds looking for something clever-looking to read on the plane"—Charlie Brooker, The Guardian (1 January 2005)

Reviewing The Architecture of Happiness, New York Times reviewer Jim Holt noted that although the book is in part humorous "in a Woody Allen-ish sort of way", the book, "like de Botton’s previous books, ... contains its quota of piffle dressed up in pompous language."


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