I have put off writing this review for quite some time as I've been resisting outing the thoughts I have in my head regarding religion. I know, I wasI have put off writing this review for quite some time as I've been resisting outing the thoughts I have in my head regarding religion. I know, I was pretty candid when reviewing The Varieties of Scientific Experience, and very outspoken when reviewing Butler's Parables. But something about how I felt about this book just seemed much more personal.
The premise of this book is simple (if emotionally loaded). Atheists, when rejecting religion, tend to reject all the trappings and buildings and holidays and ceremonies as well. But de Botton urges us to take another look. Very few of these things have a direct relationship to the miraculous supernatural that atheists turn their noses up at. And those ceremonies have evolved over hundreds, maybe thousands of years of human history, to appeal to parts of our psyche, to make us feel less alone, to encourage community, humility, giving us ways to acknowledge our shortcomings... Why should we give all those things up? And how can we recreate them without appealing to gods to do the heavy lifting?
As always, I enjoy de Botton's writing style, thought it seems like there is a section in every book that makes me grind my teeth. In this book it was a section on the useful applications of the doctrine of original sin. But overall, I am very sympathetic to his position. I want shrines to generosity, altars of loneliness. I want the experience of singing hymns together without having to sing theology that I don't believe in. But then, even de Botton admires the function of congregations to create community between people from different walks of life. What if we could somehow transform the nature of those congregations so that they could unite people of different faiths as well? So that Christians, Jews, atheists, Buddhists, etc., could come together, learn more about each other, and be united by their common humanity?
Yes, this is Nikki Giovanni's vision from "Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea," and I am well aware of the theological objections to "cafeteria spirituality." At this moment, though, after reading this book, the idea makes me happy....more
Recently I've been following De Botton on Facebook, and watching his lectures has reminded me how much I enjoy the way he presents his arguments (evenRecently I've been following De Botton on Facebook, and watching his lectures has reminded me how much I enjoy the way he presents his arguments (even when he sometimes makes me want to shake him). So when I was recently at Barnes & Noble, going crazy buying Christmas books for the kids, I wandered around a bit looking for a few of his books. This wasn't one of the two I was hoping for, but it looked promising as well, so I picked it up.
I really, really like De Botton's writing. Light, conspiratorial, always sympathetic. The text is peppered with photos, and as I've now seen several of his lectures online, I can hear his voice as I read, which makes reading this book very similar to watching one of his PowerPoint presentations.
Well, enough on De Botton's style. The substance of this book is an introduction to philosophy of sorts. But much more painless than Sophie's World, which I could force myself to finish. He begins with the assertion that philosophers, both ancient and modern, have much to offer us in our real, day-to-day lives. He then presents us with the life and work of six philosophers, each to console us for some particular ill in life -- for example, Epicurus to console us for not having enough money.
Each chapter was fascinating and insightful, rich with De Botton's sense of humor (which I enjoy, I'm sure not everyone does). I want to know more about each of the philosophers, but in the meantime I feel the morsel I've had of each is enough to direct my mind into some better thoughts, perhaps leading to a more satisfied life.
I adored it, and will be seeking more of De Botton's work in the future. ...more
This book I bought at Book People in Austin, both because I have a weakness for Penguin's Great Ideas series in general, and also because the title inThis book I bought at Book People in Austin, both because I have a weakness for Penguin's Great Ideas series in general, and also because the title intrigued me. It is a collection of writings to friends and his mother on how to live happier, more satisfied lives, and how to hold up under adversity by organizing one's life according to philosophy and reason.
It is anti-time-management. In fact, I want to print out long excerpts and slip them inside of time management best sellers at bookstores. "What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately."
Really, it's marvelous how accessible this work is despite the millennia that have passed since it was written. As relevant as it ever was as a guide to living well.
I can't even tell you how long this book has been tormenting me. Years. I've made at least two serious attempts to read it in the past, working my pooI can't even tell you how long this book has been tormenting me. Years. I've made at least two serious attempts to read it in the past, working my poor little gray cells to the smoking point before throwing it aside with a shower of epithets. My last attempt was a few months ago, and I made it to about two-thirds of the way through. Then, planning my New Year's Eve reading marathon, I knew if I could make it to the end of this book, it would cancel out any criticisms I might level at myself for loading the stack with short books and graphic novels, because one of the books would have been &^$(*%# Kierkegaard.
Then, I don't know how much of it was just that Problema III was easier reading (which it was), and how much was just the hard work I'd previously put in to understanding the terms, ideals, and categories he'd been referencing all along in the earlier sections, but once I was a few pages in, I didn't think of my escape hatch once. (I'd given myself permission to bail if I wasn't finished with the book by 2:00 p.m.)
Don't get me wrong, it was still challenging reading. I still found myself wandering over to the computer to look up terms he used and stories he referenced. I definitely felt the lack of serious philosophical reading before this - I totally skipped the prerequisites. And I know I lost a lot for those lacks. That doesn't mean that I couldn't recognize that this book is amazing. Or that I didn't appreciate it even as I was grinding my teeth. Even though I didn't squeeze all of the wisdom out of this little book, it was definitely worth the work. ...more