From Publishers Weekly
This sophisticated gazebo of a book is the latest dispatch from the Swiss-born, London-based author of the influential handbook How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel
(1997). Promising to teach us how to duck the "brutal epithet of 'loser' or 'nobody,' " de Botton notes that status has often been conflated with honor and that the number of men slain while dueling has amounted, over the centuries, to the hundreds of thousands. That conflation is a trap from which de Botton suggests a number of escape routes. We could try philosophy, the "intelligent misanthropy" of Schopenhauer, for who cares what others think if they're all a pack of ninnies anyhow? Art, too, has its consolations, as Marcel found out in Remembrance of Things Past
. A novelist such as Jane Austen, with her little painted squares of ivory, can reimagine the world we live in so that we see fully how virtue is actually "distributed without regard to material wealth." De Botton also discusses bohemia, the reaction to status and the attack on bourgeois values, wisely linking this movement to dadaism, whose founder, Tristan Tzara, called for the "idiotic." The phenomenon known as "keeping up with the Joneses" is nothing new, and not much has changed in the 45 years since the late Vance Packard, in The Status Seekers
, wrote the definitive analysis of consumer culture and its discontents. But even at the peak of his influence, Packard was never half as suave as de Botton. (A three-part TV documentary, to be shown in the U.K. and in Australia, and hosted by de Botton, has been commissioned to promote the book.) Lively and provocative, de Botton proves once again that originality isn't necessary when one has that continental flair we call "style."
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“His richest, funniest, most heartfelt work yet, packed with erudition and brimming with an elegant originality of mind. . . . An informative joy to read.” —The Seattle Times
“A smart and amusing inquiry. . . . Thick with social history and as funny as [it is] acute.” — The Boston Globe
“A typically de Bottonesque romp. . . . Full of great. . . literary and philosophical references.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“His insights float on a kind light irony. . . like pixilated Barthes. . . . The pleasures of his prose come from following the play of his mind, the vast erudition, the succinct paraphrases, and vivid, often lyrical physical descriptions.” — Boston Phoenix