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The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton
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The Art of Travel

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The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton
Paperback $18.00
May 11, 2004 | ISBN 9780375725340

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    May 11, 2004 | ISBN 9780375725340

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  • Nov 19, 2008 | ISBN 9780307481665

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“A jewel of civility, wit and insight; de Botton has produced wondrous essays. An invitation to hyperbole … a volume to give one an expansive sense of wonder.” —The Baltimore Sun

“Illuminating … a lovely combination of enthusiasm, sensitivity, a care for the large and small, and the local and the foreign … reading de Botton’s book will help a person discover something fabulous in everyday.” —Chicago Tribune

“There is something Proustian in The Art of Travel, in the best sense, for Mr. de Botton is a kind of flaneur, strolling through his subject thoughtfully and offering nuanced truths based on his reading, experience and philosophical temperament.” —The Wall Street Journal

“It would be difficult to name a writer as erudite and yet as reader friendly … With a wry, self-deprecating charm, he passes his enthusiasms along in such manner that you can’t help being delighted by them.” —The Seattle Times

“[R]efreshing and profoundly readable…. Thanks to de Botton’s detailed and thoughtful writing, coupled with his clever curiosity, The Art of Travel has the potential to enrich not only our journeys, but also our lives.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“[De Botton] relates even the most disappointing experiences with delightful wit, graceful prose and surprising insight.” —The Los Angeles Times
“Wickedly funny … De Botton travels like the rest of us, but he brings with him the amazing erudition, crisp, lovely prose, and entertaining intellect that made How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Consolations of Philosophy such phenomenal successes.” —The Boston Globe
“[E]xudes erudition and artfulness…. Delightful.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“[A] wonderful book: inventive, witty, intelligent, and beautifully written. At its best, its prose achieves the intensity of aphorism … provocative and insightful … teeming with tantalizing detail.” —The Boston Phoenix
“Charmingly and capably convinces us how unaware most of us are as we move about in the world … will leave the reader mentally reaching for a pencil to check off the graceful, witty turns of Mr. de Botton’s mind.” —The Washington Times
“A thoughtful and anecdote-rich meditation on how trips can alter us in unexpected ways.” —Elle Magazine
“An erudite, funny brand of philosophy … will make you think and laugh and want to plan a trip to test out some of de Botton’s ideas for yourself.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“[A] quirky, delightful meditation on why we go where we go … What makes his book so much fun and so utterly unique is the way his mind works as he contemplates his (and our) responses to museums, airports, landscapes, hotels–even to a gas station. Read just a few pages of de Botton and you’ll follow him anywhere.” —O Magazine
“Quietly terrific … It says a great deal about his ability that no matter whom he might invoke he does not pale by comparison.” —The New York Sun
“De Botton … gives voice and meaning to the thousands of epiphanies great and small brought about by voyaging.” —Esquire
“Alain de Botton piques curiosity not only about where we go but why and how–questions worth considering even if our destination is no farther than the nearest cabana.” —Vogue
“Journeys of the de Botton kind … expand our perspective, they broaden our mind, they enrich the intellect. We travel, this precocious young man reminds us, to find ourselves.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Delicious writing … pure, unalloyed pleasure … [De Botton’s] thoughts are original, startling, and what is more, feel true.” —The Arizona Republic
“Utterly charming…. De Botton notices the details, and as we grow accustomed to seeing the world through his eyes, perhaps we will notice more too…. [A] fine writer.” —The Times Picayune
“An elegant and subtle work, unlike any other. Beguiling.” —The Times (London)
“One of the very best contemporary travel writers—an artist in the genre.” —Jan Morris, The New Statesman

Author Q&A

A conversation with Alain de Botton,

Q: What’s the point of this book?

For most of us, when we think of how to be happy, we think of one (or all of) three things: falling in love, finding satisfaction at work and going travelling. Travelling can form some of our greatest fantasies: we lie in bed reading a travel supplement, looking at pictures of faraway places (London/Honolulu/Paris/Naples/Sydney/Bali) and think, ‘Here I could be happy!’

But the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams. The tragi-comic disappointments are well-known: the disorientation, the mid-afternoon despair, the lethargy before ancient ruins. And yet the reasons behind such disappointments are rarely explored. We are inundated with advice on where to travel to; we hear little of why we should go and how we could be more fulfilled doing so.

The Art of Travel is an attempt to tackle the curious business of travelling – why do we do it? What are we trying to get out of it? In a series of essays, I write about airports, landscapes, museums, holiday romances, photographs, exotic carpets and the contents of hotel mini-bars. I mix my own thoughts about travel with those of some great figures of the past: Edward Hopper, Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Van Gogh and Ruskin among them.The result is a work which, unlike existing guidebooks on travel, actually asks what the point of travel might be – and modestly suggests how we could learn to be happier on our journeys.

Q: What then are some of the reasons why our travels go awry?

Well, one of them stems from the perplexing fact that when we look at pictures of places we want to go and see (and imagine how happy we would be if only we were there), we are prone to forget one crucial thing: that we will have to take ourselves along with us. That is, we won’t just be in India/South Africa/Australia/Prague/Peru in a direct, unmediated way, we’ll be there with ourselves, still imprisoned in our own bodies and minds – with all the problems this entails.

I remember a trip to Barbados a few years ago. I looked forward to it for months, I anticipated a beautiful hotel on the shores of a sandy beach (as pictured in a glossy brochure called ‘Winter Sun’). But on my first morning on the island, I realized something at once obvious and surprising; that I had brought my body with me and that, because of a fateful arrangement in the human constitution, my interaction with the island was critically to depend on its co-operation. The body proved a temperamental partner. Asked to sit on a deckchair so that the mind could savor the beach, the trees and the sun, it collapsed into difficulties; the ears complained of an enervating wind, the skin of stickiness and the toes of sand lodged between them. After ten minutes, the entire machine threatened to faint. Unfortunately, I had brought something else that risked clouding my appreciation of my surroundings; my entire mind – not only the aesthetic lobe (that had planned the journey and agreed to pay for it), but also the part committed to anxiety, boredom, melancholy, self-disgust and financial alarm.

Q: What else goes wrong when we travel?

Another great problem of vactaions is that they rob us of one of the important comforts of daily life: the expectation that things won’t be perfect. In daily life, we are not supposed to be happy, we are allowed – even encouraged – to be generally dissatisfied and sad. But vacations give us no such grace. They are one time when it seems that we have failed if we cannot be happy. We are therefore prone to be not only miserable on our travels – but miserable about the fact that we are miserable.

I remember a trip to a hotel in France with my girlfriend. The setting was sublime, the room flawless – and yet we managed to have a row which, for all the good the room and setting did us, meant that we might as well have stayed at home. Our row (it started with who had forgotten the key in the room and extended to cover the whole of our relationship) was a reminder of the rigid, unforgiving logic to which human moods seem subject – and which we ignore at our peril when we encounter a picture of a beautiful country or hotel and imagine that happiness must naturally accompany such magnificence. Our capacity to draw happiness from aesthetic or material goods seems critically dependent on first satisfying a more important range of emotional or psychological needs, among them the need for understanding, for love, expression and respect. We will not enjoy – we are not able to enjoy – sumptuous gardens and attractive bedrooms with en suite bathrooms when a relationship to which we are committed abruptly reveals itself to be suffused with incompatibility and resentments.

If we are surprised by the power of, for example, a single sulk to destroy the beneficial effects of an entire hotel, it is because we misunderstand what holds up our moods. We are sad at home and blame the weather and the ugliness of the buildings, but on holiday in a nice place we learn that the state of the skies and the appearance of our dwellings can never on their own underwrite our joy nor condemn us to misery.

There is a tragi-comic contrast between the vast projects that human beings set in motion, like the construction of beautiful hotels and the dredging of bays, and the basic psychological knots that undermine them. How quickly the advantages of civilization are wiped out by a tantrum. The intractability of these knots points to the austere, wry wisdom of certain ancient philosophers, who walked away from the finer aspects of civilization and argued, from within a barrel or mud hut, that the key ingredients of happiness could not be material or aesthetic, but were always stubbornly psychological.

Q: Your book comprises not only your thoughts, but also those of ancient and modern philosophers, writers and thinkers: did you find anyone with particularly useful things to say about how to be happier on our travels?

One insight is that it may be useful to accept that the anticipation of travel is perhaps the best part about it. Our vacations are never as satisfying as they are when they exist in an as-yet unrealised form; in the shape of an airline ticket and a brochure. In the great 19th century novel, Against Nature, by the French writer J.K.Huysmans, the narrator goes on a few holidays which go wrong and then decides never to leave home again. He remains in his study and surrounds himself with a series of objects which facilitate the finest aspect of travel, its anticipation. He reads travel magazines, he has coloured prints hung on the walls, like those in travel agents’ windows, showing foreign cities and museums. He has the itineraries of the major shipping companies framed and lines his bedroom with them. He fills an aquarium with seaweed, buys a sail, some rigging and a pot of tar and, with their help, is able to experience the most pleasant sides of a long sea-voyage without any of its inconveniences.

I’ve continued to travel in spite of all these caveats. And yet there are times when I too feel there might be no finer journeys than those provoked in the imagination by remaining at home, flipping through the pages of the United or Delta worldwide flight timetable.

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