The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton
My husband started out a philosophy major until his father declared in no uncertain terms was he never going to pay that kind of money for his son to sit around talking big ideas. So without a choice, hubby returned to something more practical and eventually finished with engineering and computer science stamped on his sheepskin.
I, on the other hand, started out in physics and advanced math (which is how we met) and eventually finished sort of speaking in tongues. I got my Nietzsche being forced to read Also Sprach Zaranthustra auf Deutsch, learned my Latin declensions via Ovid, and argued over mono no aware in the original bungo [classical Japanese] text.
Of course, education was wasted on youth and I can barely manage English anymore. Which actually makes me probably a perfect reader for Consolations of Philosophy: my forgotten brain completely admires and celebrates de Botton’s uncanny ability to take any sort of BIG ideas and make them so concisely and immediately transparent. And then he takes that magically gleaned clarity from opaquely famous dead white men who have been dead for a really really long time (like centuries and even millenia) and shows you how to apply those once unwieldy ideas toward the betterment of your own lives today.
With a fine mixture of supreme intelligence, clever sarcasm, laugh-out-loud humor – further illuminated by art, photos, and illustrations both serious and just plain silly – de Botton shows you how Socrates’s final trial and death can help you overcome unpopularity, how Epicurus can teach you that money does not equal happiness, how Seneca’s own suffering and his stoic acceptance can make us all better equipped to deal with frustration, how Montaigne’s views on the adequate human being can assuage any feelings of sexual, cultural, and/or intellectual inadequacy (what was I saying about wasted education?), how you can use Schopenhauer’s pessimism to find solace from a broken heart, and how nihilistic Nietzsche can help us overcome difficulties if we can just accept that “not everything which hurts may be bad.”
Thank goodness in the case of this delightful book, there’s no pain, all gain.