Alain de Botton | Lit Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Alain de Botton 

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Londoner Alain de Botton kicked off his writing career with three well-received novels, but he's probably better known for his subsequent nonfiction--self-help for the intellectual crowd like How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Consolations of Philosophy, and The Art of Travel. The concept of his latest, Status Anxiety (Pantheon), isn't foreign to modern American culture, but de Botton points out that while the quest for romantic love has been heavily documented in the arts for ages, our need for the love and attention of society is "a secret and shameful tale." Drawing on a range of literary, philosophical, and historical sources, he first identifies the causes of the condition: lovelessness (being a nobody rather than a somebody), expectation (envy of the success of others), meritocracy, snobbery, and dependence--on talent, luck, your employer, and the economy. Not one to idly lament, de Botton then proceeds to offer solutions. Philosophy and reason can help us determine our own self-worth or use our anxiety for self-improvement, he argues. We can challenge social norms through art, the ballot box can shift a society's ideology, and religion can direct us from the worldly to the spiritual. And there's always the "democratic church" of bohemia, constantly flipping the bird at the bourgeoisie and upsetting the status quo (the solution that sounds the most fun). A mix of history and psychology, this book may not solve your own inferiority complex, but it might help you live with it. De Botton appears at 7 PM on Monday, June 21, at the Oriental Institute, 1155 E. 58th, 773-752-4381.

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