Book Diary: Essays in Love (Alain de Botton)

Another day, another attempt to understand the world around me through Alain de Botton.

I hadn´t planned to read this book – his first – but I saw it lying on my sister´s bedside table, picked it up and then couldn’t put it down.  I´ve read the more recent School of Life publication, How to Think More About Sex and recognised some of the themes.


After reading the School of Life book I felt liberated by the idea that we should all apply a little more forgiveness to our relationships in order to make them a little easier, but also somewhat confused as to what the overall ‘answer’ was (although when I began to read it I hadn’t realised I was looking for an answer).  Essays in Love was a similar experience, and I found myself wondering, for example, how exactly do we figure out how to get along?

I do know, obviously, that philosophy isn’t about answers, it is about asking questions.  It is about the ‘por que’ not the ‘para que’, which is how the Spanish philosophy tutor my sister and I have contracted put it during our first lesson. My sister and I have started to learn the history of philosophy and its main thinkers and concepts with a private tutor, called Oscar.  His first question (in Spanish) within the first five minutes of the first lesson was, ‘What is real?’  Our answer sounded like something a six year old might come up with, a not very clever six year old.

In addition to my investigations with Alain and Oscar, I also recently discovered that many schools in Spain teach the history of philosophy and logic as part of their curriculum which seems to (in my experience so far) feed a very different attitude towards life. For example, I mentioned to a relative stranger at work that I was making my first trip back to the UK since moving to Madrid and that it felt a little strange to be going back to what felt like a different life. His answer, instead of the usual platitudes, which I expected (being British and all)  was: “Yes, it might be strange, but at least with strange feelings you know you are alive.”

What all these experiences have served to do – despite not getting any answers, or indeed being able to give coherent ones – in one practical and important sense, is to remind me how important philosophy is and how important it is to remain curious and interested and to interrogate yourself and the world around you.

Although it doesn’t stop me secretly hoping I’ll figure it all out one day.


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