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The Architecture of Happinessby Alain de Botton
Synopses & Reviews
Bestselling author Alain de Botton considers how our private homes and public edifices influence how we feel, and how we could build dwellings in which we would stand a better chance of happiness.
In this witty, erudite look at how we shape, and are shaped by, our surroundings, Alain de Botton applies Stendhal’s motto that “Beauty is the promise of happiness” to the spaces we inhabit daily. Why should we pay attention to what architecture has to say to us? de Botton asks provocatively.
With his trademark lucidity and humour, de Botton traces how human needs and desires have been served by styles of architecture, from stately Classical to minimalist Modern, arguing that the stylistic choices of a society can represent both its cherished ideals and the qualities it desperately lacks. On an individual level, de Botton has deep sympathy for our need to see our selves reflected in our surroundings; he demonstrates with great wisdom how buildings — just like friends — can serve as guardians of our identity.
Worrying about the shape of our sofa or the colour of our walls might seem self-indulgent, but de Botton considers the hopes and fears we have for our homes at a new level of depth and insight. When shopping for furniture or remodelling the kitchen, we don’t just consider functionality but also the major questions of aesthetics and the philosophy of art: What is beauty? Can beautiful surroundings make us good? Can beauty bring happiness? The buildings we find beautiful, de Botton concludes, are those that represent our ideas of a meaningful life.
The Architecture of Happiness marks a return to what Alain does best: taking on a subject whose allure is at once tantalizing and a little forbidding and offering to readers a completely beguiling and original exploration of the subject. As he did with Proust, philosophy, and travel, now he does with architecture.
Bestselling author de Botton considers how individuals' private homes and public edifices influence how they feel, and how dwellings could be built in such a way as to promote a sense of happiness.
Philosopher Todd Mays latest book helps readers to find meaning in their lives, especially those readers who, like Camus, do not look to God. As Camus says of daily life, But then one day the why arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement.” To move beyond that weariness tinged with amazement, we must look, May argues, toward a realm of values that inheres in our practices but that we rarely reflect on systematically: narrative values. Narrative values offer thematic meaning and a sense of worth to the trajectory of our lives.
The book proceeds in five stages. In the first chapter, May raises the question of meaningfulness, and then rejects the answers he thinks are too easy—God and the universe. The second chapter considers and rejects the possibility that happiness is good enough. For a life to be meaningful in the sense many of us seek, it cannot only feel good to us: it must also meet certain, more objective criteria of meaningfulness. In the third chapter, the heart of the book, May proposes narrative values as offering those criteria or standards of meaning, values such as steadfastness, adventurousness, or gracefulness. In chapter four, May contrasts narrative values with both moral values and aesthetic ones, and in chapter five May defends the idea that we can have standards or criteria of meaning that are objective—not simply a matter of personal opinion—even in the absence of God or some foundation upon which to rest our beliefs. May reflects on what it is to have a meaningful life, and how much or how little comfort we can take from the meaning our lives might express. Narrative values do not offer us an assurance that our lives have a cosmic significance, and they do not redeem all humankind. Instead, they give us a framework for reflecting on ourselves that allow us to make sense of and give value to the particular bent of the arc of our lives.
The Achitecture of Happiness is a dazzling and generously illustrated journey through the philosophy and psychology of architecture and the indelible connection between our identities and our locations.One of the great but often unmentioned causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kinds of walls, chairs, buildings, and streets that surround us. And yet a concern for architecture is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. Alain de Botton starts from the idea that where we are heavily influences who we can be, and argues that it is architecture's task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.
About the Author
Alain de Botton has published four non-fiction books: Status Anxiety, The Art of Travel, How Proust Can Change Your Life, and The Consolations of Philosophy. In February 2003, de Botton was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, one of France’s highest artistic honours. In November of the same year, he was awarded the Prix Européen de l’Essai Charles Veillon. In 2004, Status Anxiety was awarded the prize for the Economics Book of the Year by the Financial Times, Germany. Cambridge-educated, de Botton now lives in London.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: A Meaningful Life?
Chapter Two: Is Happiness Enough?
Chapter Three: Narrative Values
Chapter Four: Meaningful Lives, Good Lives, Beautiful Lives
Chapter Five: Justifying Ourselves to Ourselves
Conclusion: Not Everything, But Something
Suggestions for Further Reading
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