ALAIN DE BOTTON has cornered the market in adapting complex philosophical concepts for the busy reader. He is akin to a life coach in that he coaxes us into developing our intellectual capacity, and offers simple nuggets of wisdom that broaden our perspective on our narrow lives and deepen our shaky understanding of our fellow man; and we don't even have to put the hours in. For the spiritually vapid and culturally zoned-out, de Botton is a godsend. He is wonderfully generous with his extensive knowledge of the Western literary and philosophical canons. And one cannot help but respond in a similarly generous vein to this most media-savvy of writers. For he is at heart, one senses, a kind man with a genuine desire to spread the Word.
His wordy heroes are Proust, Boethius and Socrates. None of them pandered to publishers' executives or their publicists, or talked down to his readers; yet each can be quoted out of context appositely and with aplomb. The snippets de Botton gives us make us feel clever; we are glimpsing great