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Alain de Botton

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Title: Alain de Botton  
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Subject: Status Anxiety, Meng Weng Wong, King's College London, List of King's College London alumni, List of Question Time episodes
Collection: 1969 Births, 20Th-Century Sephardi Jews, 21St-Century Sephardi Jews, Alumni of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, Alumni of King's College London, Atheist Philosophers, British Jewish Writers, English Atheists, English Jews, English Male Writers, English People of Egyptian-Jewish Descent, English People of Swiss Descent, English Philosophers, Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature, Jewish Atheists, Jewish Philosophers, Living People, People Educated at Harrow School, People Educated at the Dragon School, Swiss Atheists, Swiss Emigrants to the United Kingdom, Swiss Jews, Swiss People of Egyptian-Jewish Descent, Swiss Philosophers, Swiss Writers
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Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton
Born (1969-12-20) 20 December 1969
Zürich, Switzerland
Occupation Writer, documentary maker
Nationality Swiss-British
Period 1993–present

Alain de Botton, FRSL (; born 20 December 1969) is a Swiss-born, British-based philosopher, writer, and television presenter. His books and television programmes discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy's relevance to everyday life. At 23, he published Essays in Love (1993), which went on to sell two million copies. Other bestsellers include How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004) and The Architecture of Happiness (2006).

He co-founded The School of Life in 2008 [1][2] and later that year was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).[3]

He co-founded Living Architecture in 2009, and in 2015 was awarded "The Fellowship of Schopenhauer", an annual writers award from the Melbourne Writers Festival, for this work.

In 2011, de Botton was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL).[4]


  • Early life and family 1
  • Education 2
  • Writing 3
    • Essays 3.1
    • Fiction 3.2
    • Non-fiction 3.3
    • Newspapers, lecturing and television 3.4
  • Other projects 4
    • The School of Life 4.1
    • Living Architecture 4.2
    • Museum displays 4.3
  • Personal life 5
  • Publications 6
  • Filmography 7
    • TV series 7.1
  • Radio 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life and family

He was born in Zurich, the son of Jacqueline (née Burgauer) and Gilbert de Botton, who was born in Alexandria, Egypt and expelled (along with the rest of the Jewish community) under Nasser. Gilbert went to live and work in Switzerland, where he co-founded an investment firm, Global Asset Management; his family was estimated to have been worth £234 million in 1999.[5] De Botton's Swiss-born mother was Ashkenazi, and his father was from a Sephardic Jewish family from the town of Boton in Castile and León.

De Botton's ancestors include Abraham de Boton.[6] De Botton's paternal grandmother was Yolande Harmer.[7] He has one sister, Miel, and they received a secular upbringing.[8] Alain spent the first twelve years of his life in Switzerland where he was brought up speaking French and German.


He was sent to the Dragon School, a boarding school in Oxford, where English became his primary language. Describing himself as a shy child, he boarded at Harrow School, before going up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he read History (1988–1991), graduating with a double starred first (MA),[9] and subsequently completed a master's degree (MPhil) in Philosophy at King's College London (1991–1992).[10] He began studying for a PhD in French philosophy at Harvard University,[11] but gave up this research to write books for the general public.[9]


De Botton has written in a variety of formats to mixed response. Positive reviews of his books attest that he has made literature, philosophy and art more accessible to a wider audience.[12][13][14][15][16]

Negative reviews allege that de Botton tends to state the obvious[17][18] and have characterized some of his books as pompous and lacking focus.[19][20][21][22]


De Botton has written books of essays in which his own experiences and ideas are interwoven with those of artists, philosophers and thinkers. These have been called a "philosophy of everyday life."[23][24]


In his first novel, Essays in Love (titled On Love in the U.S.), published in 1993, de Botton deals with the process of falling in and out of love. In 2010, Essays in Love was adapted to film by director Julian Kemp for the romantic comedy My Last Five Girlfriends.


In 1997 he published his first non-fiction book, How Proust Can Change Your Life, based on the life and works of Marcel Proust.[25] It was a bestseller in both the US and UK.[26]

This was followed by The Consolations of Philosophy in 2000. 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. The book has been both praised and criticized for its therapeutic approach to philosophy.

In The Architecture of Happiness[27] (2006), 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 people every day, though people rarely pay particular attention to it. A good portion of the book discusses how human personality traits are reflected in architecture. He ends up defending Modernist architecture, and chastising the pseudo-vernacular architecture of housing, especially in the UK. "The best modern architecture," he argues, "doesn't hold a mirror up to nature, though it may borrow a pleasing shape or expressive line from nature's copybook. It gives voice to aspirations and suggests possibilities. The question isn't whether you'd actually like to live in a Le Corbusier home, but whether you'd like to be the kind of person who'd like to live in one."

In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009),[2] de Botton produced a survey of ten different jobs, including accountancy, rocket science and biscuit manufacture. The book, a piece of narrative non-fiction, includes two hundred original images and aims to unlock the beauty, interest and occasional horror of the modern world of work.

In response to a question about whether he felt "pulled" to be a writer, de Botton 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.[28]

In August 2009, de Botton replied to a competition advertised among British literary agents by BAA, the airport management company, for the post of "writer-in-residence" at Heathrow Airport. The post involved being seated at a desk in Terminal 5, and writing about the comings and goings of passengers over a week. De Botton was duly appointed to the position. The result was the book, A Week at the Airport, published by Profile Books in September 2009. The book features photographs by the documentary photographer Richard Baker, with whom de Botton also worked on The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.

In January 2012, de Botton published Religion for Atheists, about the benefits of religions for those who do not believe in them. De Botton put it: "It's clear to me that religions are in the end too complex, interesting and on occasion wise to be abandoned simply to those who believe in them".[29] In April 2012, he published How to Think More about Sex, one in a series of six books on topics of emotional life published by his enterprise, The School of Life.

In October 2013, he published Art as Therapy, co-written with the Australian-Scottish art historian, John Armstrong. Art as Therapy argues that certain great works of art "offer clues on managing the tensions and confusions of everyday life".[30]

In February 2014, de Botton publishes his fourteenth book, a title called "The News: A User's Manual", a study of the effects of the news on modern mentality, viewed through the prism of 25 news stories, culled from a variety of sources, which de Botton analyses in detail. The book delves with more rigour into de Botton's analyses of the modern media which appeared in Status Anxiety.

Newspapers, lecturing and television

De Botton used to write articles for several English newspapers, and from 1998 to 2000, wrote a regular column for The Independent on Sunday. He travels extensively to lecture and has his own production company, Seneca Productions, which makes television documentaries based upon his works.[31] He has given lectures at TED conferences. In July 2011, he spoke in Edinburgh about "Atheism 2.0", an idea of atheism that also incorporates our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence.[32] In July 2009, he spoke at Oxford University about the philosophy of failure and success, and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments.[33]

Other projects

The School of Life

De Botton's project from 2008 is The School of Life – a new cultural enterprise based in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Melbourne and aiming to offer instruction on how to lead a fulfilled life. In an interview with[34] 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.[35]

Living Architecture

In May 2009, de Botton launched a new architecture project called "Living Architecture"[36] – to build a series of houses in the UK using leading contemporary architects. These include Peter Zumthor, MVRDV, JVA, NORD and Michael and Patti Hopkins. The most recent house to be announced is a collaboration between the Turner-prize winning artist Grayson Perry, and the architecture firm FAT. The houses are rented out to the general public. De Botton, the creative director and chairman of Living Architecture, aims to improve the appreciation of good contemporary architecture – a task which is the practical continuation of his theoretical work on architecture in his book The Architecture of Happiness. In October 2009, he was appointed an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), in recognition of his services to architecture.[3]

Museum displays

In 2014, de Botton was invited by three museums – the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto – to contribute content to special exhibitions based on his work, Art as Therapy. De Botton and his colleague John Armstrong inserted captions, arranged on large Post-it-style labels designed by the Dutch Graphic artist, Irma Boom, bearing slogans and commentary on exhibits throughout the Rijksmuseum.[37]

Personal life

De Botton has described his relationship with his father as difficult, stating: "When I sold my first bestseller (and a million dollars was peanuts for my father) he was not impressed and wondered what I was going to do with myself."[38] When his father died, his family was left a large trust fund,[39] although de Botton says his income is derived solely from his own activities (book sales, speaking engagements, business consulting, The School of Life).[40][41][42] Alain's stepmother Janet de Botton is a prominent patron of the arts and competition bridge player.[43] De Botton lives in London.[44]

In August 2014, de Botton was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[45]


  • Essays in Love (1993), published as On Love (1993) in the US.
  • The Romantic Movement (1994)
  • Kiss and Tell (1995)
  • How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997)
  • The Consolations of Philosophy (2000)
  • The Art of Travel (2002)
  • Status Anxiety (2004)
  • The Architecture of Happiness (2006)
  • The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009)
  • A Week at the Airport (2009)
  • Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion (2012)
  • How to Think More About Sex (2012)
  • Art as Therapy (2013)[46]
  • The News: A User's Manual (2014)


TV series

  1. Socrates on Self-Confidence
  2. Epicurus on Happiness
  3. Seneca on Anger
  4. Montaigne on Self-Esteem
  5. Schopenhauer on Love
  6. Nietzsche on Hardship (featuring Cathal Grealish)


In 2011 he presented a series of talks for the BBC Radio 4 series A Point of View.

  • What Humanities Should Teach: Arguing teachers of humanities in universities have only themselves to blame for cuts in funding.
  • News and Concentration: Examining our inability to concentrate.
  • The Ecological Sublime: A philosopher's take on ecological dilemmas.
  • Are Museums Our New Churches?: Argues that museums could learn from churches with regard to getting their message across.
  • In Praise of the Nanny State: Asks why the idea of a Nanny state is so unappealing.
  • On Marriage: Muses on why a bookish life is a poor preparation for marriage.
  • In Praise of the Zoo: Muses on the value of exotic animals in giving perspective on our own lives.
  • The Art of Conversation: Questions why we put so much effort into social encounters but leave conversation to chance.
  • What's in a Marriage?: Argues that expecting one person to be a good partner, lover and parent is, almost, asking the impossible.
  • On Social Climbing: Argues that social climbing should be seen as evidence of a natural curiosity about the modern world.
  • Modern Parenting: Takes a witty look at modern parenting.
  • The Advantages of Pessimism: Why pessimism is the key to happiness.
  • A Point of View: podcast


  1. ^ "The School of Life – Homepage". 
  2. ^ a b "Official Bio". Alain de Botton. 
  3. ^ a b "Alain de Botton's Living Architecture Project". 
  4. ^ Royal Society of Literature website; accessed 1 March 2014.
  5. ^ Staff. "Sunday Times Rich List". Retrieved 7 February 2014. , 1999 Sunday Times Rich List now behind a paywall
  6. ^ "Gilbert de Botton", The Telegraph, obituaries, 30 August 2000.
  7. ^ Ian Black and Benny Morris (2007). Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services. Grove Press. p. 70.  
  8. ^ de Botton, Alain (24 December 2011). "An atheist at Christmas: Oh come all ye faithless". The Guardian (London). 
  9. ^ a b The Real World: Alain de Botton, philosopher, writer and TV presenter, The Independent
  10. ^ "King's College London - Notable alumni". Retrieved 2014-08-26. 
  11. ^ New York, Alain de Botton, Volume 35, New York Magazine Co., 2002, page 90
  12. ^ "The Consolations of Philosophy". Archived from the original on 16 April 2010. Retrieved 23 March 2010. De Botton's idea of bringing philosophy to the masses and presenting it in an unthreatening manner (and showing how it might be useful in anyone's life), is admirable; the way he has gone about it is less so. 
  13. ^ "Philosophy for a night out at the Dog and Duck". London, UK: The Independent. 3 April 2000. Retrieved 11 July 2009. 
  14. ^ Hamilton, Fiona; Coates, Sam; Savage, Michael (March 2002). "Financial alarm under the palms". London, UK: Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 11 July 2009. 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. 
  15. ^ "Why it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive". Evening Standard. May 2002. Retrieved 11 July 2009. 
  16. ^ Conrad, Peter (9 April 2000). "When Nietzsche meets Delia Smith". London, UK: Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  17. ^ Charlie Brooker (January 2005). "The art of drivel". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 11 July 2009. ...a 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 
  18. ^ "Flaccid fallacies". London, UK: 25 March 2000. Archived from the original on 23 April 2009. Retrieved 20 March 2009. De Botton's new book consists of obvious, hopeless or contradictory advice culled from great thinkers on how to overcome certain problems of existence. 
  19. ^ Jim Holt (10 December 2006). "Dream Houses". New York Times. Retrieved 6 April 2008. Like de Botton's previous books, this one contains its quota of piffle dressed up in pompous language. 
  20. ^ Mark Lamster. "Bring Back the Bluebird". Archived from the original on 13 April 2008. Retrieved 17 April 2009. ...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 
  21. ^ Naomi Wolf (March 2009). "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton". London: The Times. Retrieved 11 July 2009. ...this book examining "work" sounds often as if it has been written by someone who never had a job that was not voluntary, or at least pleasant. 
  22. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (3 April 2011). "How can you be a militant atheist? It's like sleeping furiously". London, UK: The Guardian. Archived from the original on 1 May 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2011. 
  23. ^ Alain de Botton to deliver the RIBA Trust Annual Lecture 2006,; accessed 1 March 2014.
  24. ^ Alain de Botton profile, British Council Arts website; accessed 1 March 2014.
  25. ^ talks with Robert Birnbaum"The Art of Travel"Author of ,
  26. ^ "Interview with Alain de Botton",; accessed 26 February 2014.
  27. ^ "The Architecture of Happiness"AOL interviews Alain de Botton about ,
  28. ^ Nagy, Kim. "The Art of Connection – A Conversation with Alain de Botton", Wild River Review, 19 November 2007.
  29. ^ The Philosophers Magazine ISSUE # 57 Page 26
  30. ^ "Art as Therapy",; accessed 26 February 2014.
  31. ^ The Architecture of Happiness, Official Website
  32. ^, TED Talks|Alain De Botton: Atheism 2.0
  33. ^, TED Talks|Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success; accessed 26 February 2014.
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Alain de Botton: I would advise a friend to travel alone (". 
  36. ^ "Living Architecture". 
  37. ^ Searle, Adrian. "Art Is Therapy review – de Botton as doorstepping self-help evangelist". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  38. ^ שלומציון קינן, ראיון עם אלן דה בוטון, "הארץ", 2007
  39. ^ "Janet de Botton and family". The London Sunday Times. 27 April 2008. 
  40. ^ The Independent"Philosopher king: Alain de Botton finds glamour and drama in the world of work," Katy Guest, , 27 March 2009.
  41. ^ "Office affairs", Lynn Barber, The Guardian, 22 March 2009.
  42. ^ "On De Botton".  
  43. ^ Janet de Botton profile,; accessed 26 February 2014.
  44. ^ Barber, Lynn (22 March 2009). "Office affairs". The Guardian (London, UK). 
  45. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". 2014-08-07. Retrieved 2014-08-26. 
  46. ^ "미술이 어렵다고 ? 이만한 진통제도 없는데". Chungang-Ilbo. 2 November 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013. 

External links

  • Alain de Botton official site
  • Publications by and about Alain de Botton in the catalogue Helveticat of the Swiss National Library
  • Living Architecture
  • Works by de Botton
  • The Consolations of PhilosophyCompendium of reviews of
  • Archived web chat
  • Interview with 3AM Magazine (2002)
  • Alain de Botton at the Internet Movie Database
  • Interview with Colin Marshall
  • Alain de Botton at TedGlobal filmed on July 2009: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success
  • Audio: Alain de Botton in conversation on the BBC World Service discussion show The Forum
  • Video 1 hour The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work YouTube link
  • Alain de Botton at TED
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