UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

In the Immortal Words of Socrates….

“I drank what?”

Alain de Botton’s “The Consolations of Philosophy,” which mimics the style of his earlier foray into the arcanely-academic-made-into-self-help-simplicity “How Proust Can Change Your Life,” takes you on an illustrated journey through the history of high contemplation.

In a series of short biographies, de Botton examines the lives and major tenets of Socrates, Epicurus, Senecca, Montaingne, Sachopenhauer, and Nietzsche, all the while explaining how to make them work for you.

In Socrates, we have a contrarian set against the foolishness of public opinion. The consolation being that popular views are often just communal knee-jerks and self-justified prejudices. Socrates’ views, all rationally derived, found him so unpopular that he became the subject of ridicule on the stages of Athens and eventually garnered him a death sentence.

Epicurus, the hedonist, was basically a hippie touting the “Simplify, man” philosophy, consolation for those short of cash. However, the stoic Senecca exemplifies a non-avoidance therapy, expecting adversity and frustration as the only way to be prepared for inevitabilities. Montaigne embraces inadequacy: that for all of man’s nobility and capacity for reason, the indignities of the body show these as only half the story. Basically, it is a how-to guide in avoiding a shame spiral. Schopenhauer, the consummate pessimist, misanthrope, and poodle enthusiast, sooths the broken-hearted. And finally, Nietzche, the ultimate in self-actuation, advises on how to tackle life’s difficulties.

The tales are all told chronologically, showing how each of the earlier philosophers influenced the later philosophers in one way or another. The book gives many small details on the individual idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of each, and the basic conceptual framework that they functioned within, making any deeper investigation into any of them easier to endure. De Botton also tends to throw in photos and illustrations at a rate and instance that would make Kurt Vonnegut roll his eyes, which never lets you forget the smirk with which this book was written.