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Kiss & Tell

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  1,001 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Dr. Samuel Johnson observed that everyone's life is a subject worthy of the biographer's art. Accused by a former girlfriend of being unable to empathize, the narrator of Alain de Botton's Kiss & Tell takes Johnson's idea to heart and decides to write about the next person who walks into his life.

He meets Isabel Rogers, a production assistant at a small stationery
Paperback, 258 pages
Published May 15th 1997 by Picador (first published 1994)
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Average rating 3.57  · 
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 ·  1,001 ratings  ·  56 reviews

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Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
The plot goes like this: a guy is dumped by a girl who says he lacks empathy and is only interested in himself. Then in a bookstore the idea jumps out at him from some random book: writing someone's biography is one of the most unselfish and empathetic acts you can do. So he decides to do exactly that for the next girl he likes.
This is an incredibly witty, clever and delicate novel that I really enjoyed reading. It made me laugh a handful of times, but I think that I also found a lot of deeper
Aug 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to MAP by: AP literature test
I first discovered this book in the weirdest way possible: a section of it was a passage in the 2002 AP Literature test. While most of those passages are snore-worthy, during this test you could tell when everyone hit this passage because people would consistently laugh out loud. It stuck out enough to me that I jotted down the title before I left the test.

I bought it in college but spent most of my college career focusing on a doomed relationship, so I didn't get to read it until now, when I've
Feb 22, 2015 rated it liked it
The narrator is told he is narcissistic. This insult hits a nerve, and he decides to fully invest in the first person he encounters, by writing said person's biography. Enter Isabel Rogers.
Of course, it is a little weird to write a biography about someone to prove something about yourself, which doesn't really refute the narcicsism accusation. However, I like the idea.

Three elements form the backbone of this book:

1. Musings about the nature of biographies, with examples.
Why are they written in
Mary Rodeback
Jun 28, 2011 rated it liked it
de Botton merges fiction with philosophy in this exploration of biography, intimacy and narcissism. At turns funny, poignant and painful, it is the kind of book I had to read in chunks, not for the weighty nature of the ideas or the prose, but because the strain of loneliness in the narrator became oppressive in its sadness. I liked this book--the consideration of the complicated nature of telling a life's story in particular--but it was a difficult book to savor.
Somewhat insightful on matters of the heart but expected much more on the lines of the brilliant "On Love"/"Essays in Love".
Apr 15, 2008 rated it liked it
I was intrigued by the premise, but the way Alain de Botton chose to deliver on it sometimes fell short of my expectations. I felt he dwelt too much on the history of the biography rather than the creation of his own biography. But then again, my beef with his construct did make the ending that much more satisfying. I also couldn't stop wondering the whole time I was reading--since this is fiction, who were all the people whose pictures appear, biography-style, in the middle of the book?
Oct 18, 2009 is currently reading it
wasnt in the mood gave up on this
Aug 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: nobody.
Shelves: audiobook
Tedious. The life of an ordinary 80-yr-old at least has interest because they have lived through times and changes that the reader has not. But someone in their 20s? A "biography" of an ordinary person in their 20s is never going to be interesting other than to themselves. The "biographer" in this book was a pain in the neck, and Isabel should have dumped him in the first chapter. I didn't need to get to the end of the book to realise that his previous girlfriend was correct, he had no empathy ...more
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, own-loanable
Outstanding fictional examination of how we perceive each other as humans as well as the art and form of biography. The narrator, derided as being self-absorbed, decides to write a biography of the next person he meets. Thus, we are treated to his attempt to do this with "Isabel", a young London woman he meets at a party. De Botton spins it all with a very light, often comic, touch, and yet manages to raise some fairly deep issues relating to how our perceptions of others are formed and shape ...more
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
"The process of intimacy therefore involved the opposite of seduction, for it meant revealing what risked rendering one most open to unfavourable judgement, or least worthy of love. Whereas seduction was founded on the display of one's finest qualities and dinner jackets, intimacy entailed a complex offer of both vulnerability and toenails."

Painfully intellectualizing narrator attempts to capture the entirety of girlfriend's with delightful visual aids (e.g., tables, maps of personal geography),
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a huge Alain de Botton fan and have read and thoroughly enjoyed most of his books. Unfortunately, I wasn't as enthusiastic about this one. At times it dragged, and towards the end I detested Isabel. 4 stars only because i love Alain and the School of life, but had this been any other author, i would give this novel a solid 3*.
Oct 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Sometimes very insightful, but can also get pretty boring.
Jul 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Alain de Botton is so clever. I enjoyed this look at biography told through fictional characters. Prefer his more recent The Course of Love.
I listened to the audiobook version.
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
I found this book in the library and it was listed as a novel, so I expected a story about writing a biography, not the actual outcome. I have never finished a biography of anyone before- and I must confess that I skipped over all the parts that were part of his 'biography of a random and fictional person' ( and, to be honest, I merely glanced over the parts were this one guy blabs on about this Johnson guy as well.). I do not care about all the things de Botton ( and all those other people ...more
Matthew Metzdorf
Jul 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Alain de Botton once again demonstrates his wit in this novel that ruminates on biography--its problems, its functions. De Botton's novels always seems a little nonfictional if only for the reason that the plots and character relationships so often feel secondary to the free-associations of its erudite writer. But far from being problematic, I find this to be charming, as de Botton has found his voice--that of the intelligent writer combining the many ideas of the classic writers and ...more
Jun 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A most interesting look at the role a biographer plays in informing society of its more well known citizens. The story is narrated by a young man who decided to write a biography of the next person he meets after being told he was a man lacking any empathy at all by his ex girlfriend. The next person he meets, of course, is a young lady named Isabel, who happens to be single, & he happens to fall in love with. That aside, the way in which De Botton proceeds to explain what is both good & ...more
Elisa Aquino
Mar 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Kiss & Tell is pretty interesting considering it’s the first (fictional) biography I’ve ever read. It’s also my first Alain de Botton read and he did not fail me.

It was such a captivating and irresistible read that I kept forgetting it was a biography. The life of Isabel Rogers as told by Dr. Samuel Johnson was nothing too grand nor marvelous. She is a normal human being but for someone who falls in love, one’s smallest quirks becomes crucial to his sustenance.
Mar 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
De Botton suggests the idea of a subjective biography of an "ordinary" individual, which can almost be more honest than the objective type. Though it was very fragmented and scattered, De Botton reveals that is how we tend to look at others' lives- not in the standard, chronological format with timelines outlining historic events. Just like all of other De Botton's works, it was a fun-filled & enjoyable read.
Kathleen Young
Jun 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
The preface: brilliant. Love the process behind writing a biography. Love the idea of the book. And love the author's tone, humor and clever thought provoking theories. But he was right, no one wants to read several hours worth of a biography of some average Englishman and an analysis of her chocolate box preferences. This would have made the perfect magazine article. But I found it hard to keep my eyes open after 45 minute increments.
Carolina Marpaung
Witty and reminded me of David Sedaris' way of writing. Alain de Botton tried to write a somewhat biography of a common girl, Isabel. I like the idea of writing and analysing the life of ordinary people and to get to a point that it's not even near ordinary.

Some critics said it's entertaining but not enthralling, but it's good enough for the likes of me :D

I will definitely read more of his books for sure!
Sep 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
I am LOVING all of his stuff. This is couched as a biography on biographies, but he goes about it brilliantly by writing a biography of sorts about someone that no one would typically write a biography about. He explores the biography genre, but also looks deep into the human soul, and touching on the deviations from perfection that make us all human. He is incomparably perceptive, and his writing is, at once, casual and genius.
Nov 22, 2010 rated it liked it
A man accused of a pathological lack of empathy by a departing girlfriend, sets out on a project to empathise with (almost) the next woman he sees. A wonderful conversation-starter of a book - "oooh he's written a novel" - it doesn't quite work. It seems more like an exercise than a fuly developed novel. Lovely for the conversations it will start...
Apr 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
I was reminded that biographies are incomplete ways to know people. Knowing people also seems to be an incomplete way to know people. I really liked that this book, which is very interesting as an examination of a biography and not that interesting as a biography, was sprinkled with humanity and thought-provoking passages.
Oct 08, 2008 rated it liked it
A fascinating study on getting to know someone through a biographer's eyes--how personal details reveal themselves, how memories can be triggered by unexpected sources, and how to write about it in a logical manner. Alain de Botton succeeds in painting a vivid portrait of his subject, despite the fact that he doubts how well he really knows her by the end of the book.
Sep 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lovely, lovely, lovely. It earned the 5 for the "This is a piece of toast," line.

I've read 10/12 of Alain de Botton's books, and his novels are far superior to his armchair philosophy. I loved how I knew Isabel well enough to also correctly answer the quiz about her "or so I thought." His books always make me question what I know and assume, and that is why I keep reading them.
Elizabeth Schurman
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
This is an exercise more than a book, a sort of joke of a book, which isn't to say it isn't good, or I didn't enjoy it. It's a biography, but not, a novel, but not, and that's all fun and games. Maybe it makes a point about how you approach people or get to know them, or maybe it's just a joke. I'm not sure yet. A lot of it was fancy-sounding but didn't mean much, that is for sure.
Jul 22, 2011 rated it liked it
Glad he stopped trying to make his essays into novels; the plot and characters were not compelling in themselves but were simply vehicles for his arguments. Chock full of nutritious food for thought, as always.
Jun 28, 2010 rated it did not like it
This was awfully similar to Bouton's On Love: a philosophical/psychological analysis of a romantic relationship. I don't know if it wasn't as good, or if it was just too much for me to read two of them. But I couldn't finish it.
Tasshin Fogleman
A fun, quick read that amasses a fair amount of interesting observations about everyday life and psychology. de Botton has clearly read a lot of books, and despite an excess of extra-literary references, he manages to integrate these comparisons thoughtfully.
Jul 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very clever. Essentially fiction, but with plenty of non-fiction tidbits thrown in. Sort of a meta-biography, and we all know I am a sucker for meta-anything. This book certainly didn't change my life or anything, but it was a smart, entertaining read, and I'd recommend it.
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Alain de Botton is a writer and television producer who lives in London and aims to make philosophy relevant to everyday life. He can be contacted by email directly via

He is a writer of essayistic books, which refer both to his own experiences and ideas- and those of artists, philosophers and thinkers. It's a style of writing that has been termed a 'philosophy of everyday
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