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How to Be Alone

(The School of Life)

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  1,626 ratings  ·  200 reviews
"Learn how to enjoy solitude and find happiness without others
Our fast-paced society does not approve of solitude; being alone is literally anti-social and some even find it sinister. Why is this so when autonomy, personal freedom and individualism are more highly prized than ever before? Sara Maitland answers this question by exploring changing attitudes throughout histor
Paperback, 162 pages
Published January 2nd 2014 by Picador (first published January 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.35  · 
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 ·  1,626 ratings  ·  200 reviews

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Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
I went alone to a restaurant today. Not gonna lie, it took some talking into. I'm the sort of person who loves food and loves trying things out, yet between making something myself and going to a restaurant, I usually choose the former. It's not so much a money issue as it is a company issue. For whatever reason, I'd convinced myself that I'd feel weird sitting there alone, waiting for my food. (And I'm not talking about McDonald's here.)

However, I had saved money from a taxi the night before (
Nolan Gray
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
Interesting, but hardly mind-blowing. The book spends equal amounts of time justifying the desire to be alone, explaining how being alone requires effort, and making book recommendations that have to do with loneliness. There is less on the habits that make being alone easier, and more in the way of trying to change the reader's mind on being alone. ...more
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is part of a School of Life series that turns the “how-to” concept on its head: instead of areas where we think we need instruction, the books are about areas where we feel like experts, topics so simple or automatic they don’t seem to need explanation (e.g. How to Be Bored, or How to Age).

Maitland argues that although being alone is easy to achieve, there is an art to doing it properly, and solitude and loneliness are by no means the same thing. She knows whereof she speaks: though she gre
Aug 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: total-trash
I didn't finish reading this book. The writer has opted for living alone (or as she puts it isolation!) and now she is bringing up some social and psychological statements which are against being alone. She comes up with questions based on these statements and answers them based on personal experience! As if this book is an answer key to be handed to anyone who dares to ask her why she chose solitude over social life. Anyway, I myself am a big fan of solitude, yet with all due respect, I am look ...more
Mar 18, 2015 rated it liked it
I was rather disappointed with this book. Maitland seems to be assuming that for nearly everybody being placed in the position of solitude or alone, this was something that they didn't want. So she spends a lot of the book trying to persuade people that maybe it is okay to have some solitude. Well I know this!

I far preferred the book Solitude: A Philosophical Encounter by Philip Koch.
Natalia Gameson
Bit of a strange, defensive read this one. I'd have preferred it if the author had assumed a friendlier reception on the part of the reader towards solitude - I didn't feel it would convert readers with no urge for it in any sense by virtue of its continued assertions that the need to be alone is culturally mistrusted. And always has been.

Additionally I don't entirely believe the argument that solitude alone sparks creativity or helps one get a better sense of nature. Albeit as someone who gets
Oct 08, 2015 rated it liked it
The title should be less "How to Be Alone" and more "Why Enjoying Being Alone Doesn't Make You a Psycho." Heavy on philosophy and historical examples and literary references. Light on practical advice. Geared more toward people who find themselves alone and don't like it, or people who are perplexed by a friend or loved one who enjoys solitude. ...more
Elizabeth A
"How have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world at least, at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfillment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time those autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves?"

I'm a School of Life fan, so I expect to slowly make my way through all their books and videos. This book was larg
Vic Van
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I did not read this because I need to learn how to be alone. I love being on my own, outside or at home. I do not mind it one bit. But as the author suggests, people who seem to enjoy being on their own or alone, tend to be regarded as a little awkward. People regularly ask me why I go hiking on my own, for instance. As I set out for another Sunday walk all on my own, someone asked me recently: is your desire to be alone so strong? I was ashamed to tell her: yes, in fact it is. But this book sor ...more
Chris Tutolo
There were both fascinating and unsurprising parts of this book. It just so happens that the fascinating parts derive not from Maitland's prose but by the considerable amount of excerpts she used between original writing. I can say that this was a book that produced a strong desire in me to read more from all the authors that seem to have inspired her. ...more
Udit Nair
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am somebody who completely embraces the solitude and I often find peace with it. And as a result this book naturally attracted me. In the first part of the book author goes on to describe about the personal experiences with solitude over the years. Then she goes on to narrate the cultural and historical instances of solitude vis a vis the community driven life spaces. The first part of the book presents solitude as something which is not much appreciated by the society. As the author says all ...more
Aseem Kaul
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
A disappointing read. It may be just that I'm too comfortable with solitude to appreciate this book - like someone in grad school reading a nursery primer - but Sara Maitland's book struck me as both saying too little and too much. On the one hand, I found Ms. Maitland's obsession with justifying one's own solitude to other people bizarre and misguided - surely the first step to being alone is learning not to care what other people think of you. Moreover, Ms. Maitland seems confused about what s ...more
ياسمين خليفة
Dec 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is one of the most interesting books I've ever read. It debunks the myths that solitude is not "natural" , or that people who like to be alone are bad ,mad or sad. It claims that solitude is very healthy increases creativity, make people more peaceful and attuned to nature , make our relationship with god stronger and make us able to think clearly and discover ourselves. ...more
"Think about it for a moment. It is truly very odd.
…We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.
We see moral and social conventions as inhibitions on our personal freedoms, and yet we are frightened of anyone who goes away from the crowd and develops ‘eccentric’ habits.
…We think we are unique, special and deserving of happiness, but we are terrified of being alone.”
p. 20

I don’t have much tr
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of book that looks for you, finds you and makes itself available tangibly to you at the perfect time in your life. I am convinced of it. Your first response to the title may well be, "but I don't want to be alone!" Or it could be, "what kind of book tells you HOW to be alone?" I assure you, your questions will be sated within pages of the introduction.

Sara Maitland has a gift of being spot on. On the bean. Bullseye. She reads you so keenly that you will squirm. And the only way
Jun 03, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 Stars

Found about the book from The School of Life's Youtube channel.

The problem of such books is that they try to elaborate on one precise topic and end up circling around one Idea in a boring and repetitive way, I personally enjoy learning by living the experience through narrated story, and I can say that I had more appreciation for solitude after reading "The Wind-up bird chronicles" and "The metamorphosis" than reading this book, however it wasn't that bad, in fact it had some solid poin
The first half is an insightful look onto why society has come to rebuke lonesomeness. The other half is a handbook on how to overcome the pre-programmed cognition of being alone. While I agree with most of it, there were also a couple of points in the second half of the book there that I did not agree with or that I found troublesome to hear. Perhaps it's because it was written at a time where you could get away with saying such things unlike now where one has to always be politically correct ( ...more
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
A better title would be “Why it’s okay to be alone.”
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I walked three years from Maine to San Diego, via Florida, Minnesota, Texas and Washington, often alone in solitude. I was an Episcopal monk for three years. More recently, I spent one month off of the grid, not seeing, or speaking with, anyone.

Maitland truly captures some of what I wish to express to others about the value and depth of those experiences.

I highly recommend this book to readers who may wish to consider dipping their toes into the joys and challenges of solitude, and to others, l
Lance Willett
Nov 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Insightful and poignant look at solitude and its benefits. I found it inspiring even if all the situations described don't apply to my life or surroundings. It fits well with this entire series of books in building a framework for each aspect of a balanced and whole life, encouraging analysis, reflection, and self-understanding.

Hat tip: Alister.
Sep 08, 2017 rated it liked it
I always try to embrace solitude in my whole (newly adult) life. I believe everyone born alone and die alone.
I often walking alone, go to the cinema alone, even eat in public alone and never really bothered by that.

But, I also don't really romanticize the solitude and I feel that Sara tried so hard to persuade that somehow being alone is better. I don't enjoy sugarcoat and romanticism about everything, really. Her perspectives are quite strong and hard to object. There are plenty of quotations
Katherine Fox
Mar 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Some interesting information trying to get out. Not helped by poor formatting on kindle so its hard to work out what are long quotes, what are titles, what are picture captions and what are one word paragraphs.

Some of the research seemed a little bit suspect. I don't know that much about creativity, but it seemed the author had either cherry picked or didn't know much of the extensive research into the creative process that gives far more depth than discoveries occur after a period solitude. The
Aug 02, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Picked this one up at the library -- it was sitting at the checkout counter when I got there, and since I already had "how to be happy" (which was excellent,
go read it) in my hands, I guess I figured this dovetailed in some way. Worst case, I hoped this might help me find some new ways to carve out alone time (driving down the toll road doesn't count thanks) and maybe be a bit more... Centered? Clearer?

Anyhow. Maitland is a woman who, after living a good portion of her life surrounded by a larg
Nicole Lippert
Apr 07, 2015 rated it liked it
It was okay. There's some interesting history about public attitudes on solitude, and some nice advice on ways in which you can be alone (in the woods, while traveling, at home in your own space, et cetera.). But I was really looking for something about over coming loneliness, and grappling with the fear that comes with it. It really didn't address any of that. Coming up with ways to be alone isn't most people's problem, I think. Rather, over coming the fear of really sitting with yourself. Ther ...more
I kept thinking of the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed and her experience of hiking the PCT trail alone during a tough time in her life and how being alone and the solitude of the journey shaped so much of her experience and herself when she returned home.

From what Sara Maitland offers about her life, she too has gone through the experience of being alone and has moved to an isolated area in Scotland. She discusses in this book what being alone means to herself and what it means nowadays and what it
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sociology-psych
I feel this book was simultaneously aimed at two different audiences: the person who already prefers being (or who is) alone and the person who is not sure if they want to be alone. As a person in the former category, I found the resulting book to be largely self-evident and surprisingly boring. The topics themselves are a mishmash of defense of the desire to be alone, a pseudo-academic book on people in history who have wanted or benefitted from being alone, and (the least well-developed) actua ...more
Dec 16, 2014 rated it liked it
First of all, I find the title of the book a bit misleading (whilst knowing it's a part of the School of Life series 'How to...'). This book is more propaganda for solitude than a (so to say) self help book on How To Be Alone per se.

The best part of the book for me is when it offers insight in the way that our thinking on being alone has grown in a historical sense. The list of further reading in the end I skipped, but it might me nice for those searching for ways to be alone and able to enjoy i
Mar 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Short, simple, but quite profound: I read this a few months ago, and it's stuck with me. I enjoy solitude, and doing things on my own, but usually feel vaguely guilty about it. This book explores the 'why' behind that guilt, and why it's not necessary, and how to embrace and thrive on voluntary solitude. ...more
What I liked best of all--Maitland's description of her own solitary lifestyle, the reasons she's chosen it and the benefits she draws from it--was a small part of this short book. The rest is very basic, for those who spend very little time alone, which does not apply to me. However, this is a good jumping off point, with many worthwhile references and recommendations. ...more
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
More of an elongated magazine article than a book... And - strangely, but true to the title and to the series of which it is part - it is a "how to" book. It really does purport to make helpful, practical suggestions for being by oneself...

I'm not sure who this book is aimed at. Extroverts who have decided to try solitude but just can't seem to get the hang of it?
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Sara Maitland is a British writer and academic. An accomplished novelist, she is also known for her short stories. Her work has a magic realist tendency. Maitland is regarded as one of those at the vanguard of the 1970s feminist movement, and is often described as a feminist writer. She is a Roman Catholic, and religion is another theme in much of her work.

Other books in the series

The School of Life (1 - 10 of 11 books)
  • How to Thrive in the Digital Age
  • How to Develop Emotional Health
  • How to Deal with Adversity
  • How to Read Nature: Awaken Your Senses to the Outdoors You've Never Noticed
  • How to Think About Exercise
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  • How to Stay Sane
  • How to Worry Less about Money
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