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 ... the French Revolution

IF YOU'RE a dictator (Milosevic, Hitler) looking for tips on how to hold on to power, it is a seriously good idea to take some time off to read up on the French Revolution.

The point of ... loneliness

BEING lonely is frequently judged an extremely bad idea. Yet we should perhaps learn to appreciate the benefits that indirectly flow from this uncomfortable emotion. There would be no relationships without it. There are no greater romantics than those who don't have anyone to be romantic with. It is when we are in the depths of loneliness, without the distraction of work or friends, that we are in a position to grasp the nature and necessity of love. It is after a weekend in which the phone has not stirred, in which every meal was prised from a can and consumed in the unconsoling presence of a gravel-voiced BBC narrator - outlining the mating habits of the Kenyan antelope - that we can appreciate why Plato should have declared (The Symposium, 416BC) that a person without love is like a creature with only half its limbs.

A good idea from ... Augustine

EVERY SOCIETY is obsessed with hierarchy, with ranking people in order of importance. What one needs to earn a place at the top of the pile may change, but the idea of a pile does not. In the distant past, being at the top required one to have noble blood, to be man and be a good fighter. Nowadays it's more important to excel at business (especially IT) and have good communication skills, but the basic idea remains the same; that some people are more worthwhile than others.

A good idea from ... zoos

PEOPLE LOOK at you strangely if you make a trip to the zoo without a child. You should have a gang of them, really, and evidence of dribbled ice-cream and balloons as well. Which is a pity, because zoos are in truth far more interesting for adults.

A good idea from ... Plato

FORD RECENTLY launched a new car called the Focus, so named because many of the key decisions on what it should look like were taken after consulting focus groups. These groups are all the rage with people facing big choices. Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are keen on them, as are manufacturing and service industries. In a sense, our attraction to them is only a natural extension of the democratic ethos of our political system, which suggests that the way to reach a right decision (about what the government should do, or what a car door should look like) is to ask a great number of people what they think and then follow the will of the majority.

A good idea from ... old maps

The modern map seems to become an instrument of humiliation

A good idea from ... Oprah Winfrey

FOR THOUSANDS of years, our ancestors didn't talk about their emotions. They killed bison and elk, returned to their caves and kept it to themselves if they had been afraid of woolly creatures, had felt small and had longed for the lost comfort of the womb. Then, gradually, mental health came to be equated with the ability to reveal vulnerable feelings to others. Over the past two centuries, staying silent about our fears and longings has gone from being viewed as brave and stoic to being viewed as dangerous: a kind of "bottling up", "repression" or, even worse, "denial".

A good idea from ... Emerson

HISTORY is one of those subjects that almost no one seems to enjoy at school, but almost everyone gets interested in as they get older. Perhaps it's only normal to find writing an essay on the Industrial Revolution boring when you're 15; a couple of decades working in a factory or office later, the topic promises to shed light on how our society got to be in the questionable place it's now in.

A good idea from ... Flaubert

LEAVING the cinema after seeing a romantic film can be traumatic. For a couple of hours, you're allowed to inhabit a sublime world where heroes and heroines fall passionately in love with each other and surmount great obstacles in order to live happily ever after. Then the lights go up, and it's time to take the bus home and rejoin a reality where people never call and the supposedly most intense moments always have something banal about them (the phone rings, someone burps).

Alain de Botton column; A good idea from ... Burckhardt

FOR the past week, I've been desperate to change my life. I want to learn how to do more things: to build a cathedral, bake bread, understand the universe, measure the stars, map the seas, translate Ancient Greek, deliver funny after-dinner speeches and ride a horse.
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