Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton is a philosopher, writer and television presenter. His books include Essays in Love (published when he was only 23), How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004) and Religion for Atheists (2012)

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A good idea from ... Nabokov

EVER SINCE the invention of the printing press, those who most love books have been prey to an awkward, paradoxical thought; that there are too many books in the world. These book lovers may even look back with nostalgia to that fortunate scroll-and-scribe era when, a little after middle age, educated people with good libraries and not too many pressing engagements could conceivably reach a point when they had read everything.

A good idea from ... Constable

I'VE BEEN sad thinking about how much worse the weather will get before it improves. The last leaves will go, nights will start at three in the afternoon, and the earth will harden so that it'll be inconceivable that anything ever grew from it - that there were once flowers and kisses and picnics in the meadows.

A good idea from ... Turgenev

YOU SHOULD never trust a person who doesn't blush. So suggested the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev in a letter to a friend in 1865. I've been fascinated by the sentence ever since I read it a few years ago. How odd for Turgenev to locate a moral quality in a strange facial tic - which those of us who are afflicted by it normally view as simply a terrible nuisance?

A good idea from ... Boswell & Johnson

MOST biographies are about very famous people - Hitler, Buddy Holly, Napoleon etc - the kind who might lazily be described as larger than life, expressing the outer limits of human possibility, capable of feats one might gasp at and be thrilled by on the morning commuter train.

A good idea from ... Ruskin

DISLIKING nature, rather like disliking children, is something of which we are taught to be ashamed. Any respectable member of the species would be moved by the sight of rolling meadows, sunsets, mountains, forests and streams. For years I had no sympathy with nature, and hid my reluctance to spend any time with it, complaining about the mosquitoes and the wasps and the difficulty of finding good films to see in the countryside. I was even indifferent to nature when it cropped up in literature. When a novelist explained what the clouds looked like or started a chapter by summing up the colour of the leaves on the trees, I'd skip the description or fall asleep.

A good idea from ... imperfections

A HIGH-STREET dentist has just opened near me, the type with large "before" and "after" photographs in the window. To the right of the door is a woman looking hung-over and glum. Her teeth are a bit crooked, too. Then to the left is the same woman beaming and bright-eyed. Her teeth are now symmetrical. pounds 54 plus VAT.

A good idea from ... Jean-Paul Sartre

SOME OF the greatest masterpieces of modern French philosophy were written in cafes. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the whole of Being and Nothingness in a window seat in the Cafe de Flore in Paris. I think about this every time I go to a Cafe Rouge. If you've ever tried to do anything more strenuous than read a newspaper in a cafe, you'll appreciate the immensity of the achievement. The bustle of waiters, the hiss of cappuccino machines, and existential phenomenology.

A good idea from ... Epicurus

I'M ON HOLIDAY and I've decided to bankrupt myself by checking into a hotel that promises to make me happy - or, as the brochure puts it, to cater to my every need. There are two pools, air-conditioned bungalows, nightly barbecues and mimosa-lined paths trimmed by discreet gardeners.

Columns: A good idea from ... room service

ROOM SERVICE is one of the world's greatest inventions. There can be few meals more succulent, or decadent, than those eaten in the privacy of a hotel bedroom. Room service may not be the height of culinary excellence - something has usually gone cold during the journey from kitchen to room, and the corpulent Michelin man would be unlikely to award a star to the average break-fast or dinner tray - but to carp like this is to miss the point. Room service is an ecstatic experience not so much because of the nature of the food, but because of the luxurious way it can be eaten: while lying draped in fine linen sheets beside one's companion (tickling her toes and pouring her a little more chocolat chaud); while flipping through a magazine and planning a day of drift- ing through the city's shops and galleries; or perhaps while soaking in the warm folds of a bubble bath, a plate of grapes balanced precariously on the beloved's knees.

Alain de Botton's column: A good idea from ... obscurity

IT IS COMMON to assume that we have picked up a highly intelligent book when we cease to understand what is going on in it. For writers who have nothing in particular to say, or else have trouble expressing themselves clearly, it can be an excellent career move to write one or two completely incomprehensible books.
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