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The Consolations of Philosophy


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Alain de Botton is the author of On Love, The Romantic Movement, Kiss and Tell, and How Proust Can Change Your Life (available in paperback from Vintage Books). His work has been translated into twenty languages. He lives in Washington, D.C., and London, where he is a director of the Graduate Philosophy Program at London University.

Product Details

de Botton, Alain
Vintage Books USA
Alain de Botton
May, Todd
New York
Philosophical counseling
History & Surveys - General
Personal Growth - General
History, Criticism, Surveys
General Philosophy
Edition Description:
Vintage International
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.5 x 5.5 in

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The Consolations of Philosophy Used Trade Paper
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Product details 240 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780679779179 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,
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.

"Synopsis" by ,

What makes for a good life, or a beautiful one, or, perhaps most important, a meaningful one? Throughout history most of us have looked to our faith, our relationships, or our deeds for the answer. But in A Significant Life, philosopher Todd May offers an exhilarating new way of thinking about these questions, one deeply attuned to life as it actually is: a work in progress, a journey—and often a narrative. Offering moving accounts of his own life and memories alongside rich engagements with philosophers from Aristotle to Heidegger, he shows us where to find the significance of our lives: in the way we live them. 

May starts by looking at the fundamental fact that life unfolds over time, and as it does so, it begins to develop certain qualities, certain themes. Our lives can be marked by intensity, curiosity, perseverance, or many other qualities that become guiding narrative values. These values lend meanings to our lives that are distinct from—but also interact with—the universal values we are taught to cultivate, such as goodness or happiness. Offering a fascinating examination of a broad range of figures—from music icon Jimi Hendrix to civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, from cyclist Lance Armstrong to The Portrait of a Lady’s Ralph Touchett to Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer who tried to assassinate Hitler—May shows that narrative values offer a rich variety of criteria by which to assess a life, specific to each of us and yet widely available. They offer us a way of reading ourselves, who we are, and who we might like to be.  

Clearly and eloquently written, A Significant Life is a recognition and a comfort, a celebration of the deeply human narrative impulse by which we make—even if we don’t realize it—meaning for ourselves. It offers a refreshing way to think of an age-old question, of quite simply, what makes a life worth living. 

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