The art of travel by Alain de Botton

kunstdesreisensWhy our way of travelling won’t work.

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

The Art of Travel explains our way of travelling, why it doesn’t work and what we could do to improve our travel experiences.

Language I read the book in: German (Kunst des Reisens)

Did I like it? Only in parts

For people who: like Alain de Botton, long winded musings.


My thoughts: 

I read this book in German and was very pleased with the translation by Silvia Morawetz. I know Alain de Botton’s writing style from other books and she seems to have captured it very well. It was a pleasure to read this book – as far as the German was concerned.

I love travelling. I have been working in the hospitality industry for decades and everything even remotely travelling related is in my nature. That is why I was really looking forward to this book. Unfortunately I was disappointed by it.

The book is divided into several chapters about departure, reasons for travelling, landscapes, art and return. In each chapter Alain de Botton is musing about what we do while travelling, how we do it and why it does or doesn’t work, enriched with his own experiences. His reasoning was always right on, not that they were anything new, mind. Everybody who has travelled and possesses the ability for self reflection must come to the conclusion that travelling won’t make you happy if you haven’t been happy in the first place. The conclusion that you are always bringing yourself is not that original, but I am sure there are people out there who still think that going from one place to another will change their own  disposition. Those are the people this book is for.

I also found his arguments about sightseeing and why it usually isn’t educating very reasonable and convincing. It all makes sense and it was really nice to read about it.

Unfortunately, as if he thought his books needs more substance or as if he thought he needed help from other writers or artists, he brought other people’s thoughts into it. And that is exactly what bored me to death. Alain de Botton could have gone on ad infinitum about travelling and I would have gladly read it all, but Gustave Flaubert’s thoughts on France and the Orient, Edward Hopper’s love for gas stations, or von Humboldt’s obsession with plants I found plain boring. And those guys (among others) took over a big part of the book.

The only interesting chapters and their “supporting writers”, in my opinion anyway, were the ones about Vincent van Gogh and John Ruskin (about whom I knew next to nothing before).  Those were interesting reflections about beauty, art, painting and drawing.

All in all, I would have preferred it if the book had been smaller and had focused less on other people’s thoughts.

Product info and buy link :

Title The art of travel
Author Alain de Botton
Publisher Penguin Books
ISBN 9780140276626
I got this book from I swapped it
Buy link Buy The art of travel

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, and here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.


A week at the airport by Alain de Botton


In the summer of 2009, Alain de Botton will be invited by the owners of Heathrow airport to become their first ever Writer in Residence. He will be installed in the middle of Terminal 5 on a raised platform with a laptop connected to screens, enabling passengers to see what he is writing and to come and share their stories. He will meet travellers from around the world, and will be given unprecedented access to wander the airport and speak with everyone from window cleaners and baggage handlers to air traffic controllers and cabin crew. Working with the renowned documentary photographer Richard Baker, de Botton will produce an extraordinary meditation upon the nature of place, time, and our daily lives. He will explore the magical and the mundane, personal and collective experiences and the interactions of travellers and workers all over this familiar but mysterious site. Like all airports, Heathrow (the 15th century village of Heath Row lies beneath the short stay car park) is a ‘non-place’ that we by definition want to leave, but it also provides a window into many worlds – through the thousands of people it dispatches every day. "A Week at the Airport" is sure to delight de Botton’s large following, and anyone interested in the stories behind the way we live.

In a nutshell:

I read it in: English

I liked it:  x Yes       No

For people who like: Alain de Botton in general, philosophical chatter, airports, travel

My thoughts: 

I love airports. Every time I travel by plane – provided there are no kids with me –, I try to get connecting flights that are not so close that I would have to run from gate to gate without the possibility to spend some time at the airport. So the first sentence of “A week at the airport” struck a chord with me.

While punctuality lies at the heart of what we typically understand by a good trip, I have often longed for my plane to be delayed – so that I might be forced to spend a bit more time at the airport.

From the beginning to the end this was a pleasure to read. I have always been interested in everything travel related so this book was just right for me. Working in the hospitality industry myself I very much enjoyed reading the chapters about his stay at the Sofitel and the training of customer service staff especially. When Alain de Botton describes how beautiful the meals on a hotel menu sound, a beauty that surpasses that of any haiku of the masters; when he wonders about the “scribe” who comes up with those flowery descriptions; and when you then start to think about a colleague of yours who sits in his small chef’s office writing his menus for the day, you can’t help but chuckle.

My line of work has made me very receptive to passages like this one which is all too true:

Though one can inculcate competence, it is impossible to legislate for humanity. In other words, the airline’s survival depended upon qualities that the company itself could not produce or control, and was not even, strictly speaking, paying for. The real origins of these qualities lay not in training courses or employee benefits but, for example, in the loving atmosphere that had reigned a quarter of a century earlier in a house in Cheshire, where two parents had brought up  a future staff member with benevolence and humour – all so that today, without any thanks being given to those parents […] he would have both the will and the wherewithal to reassure an anxious student on her way to the gate to catch BA048 to Philadelphia.

Alain de Botton describes his week at the airport starting from departure to airside to arrivals in small chapters and paragraphs talking about this and that covering a lot of topics, none of them in depth but enough to make you wish to know more. As far as I am concerned the book could have been much much thicker. A mere 107 pages wasn’t nearly long enough. I would have liked to read on and on.

Location: Heathrow Airport, England, UK

heathrow1 heathrow2 heathrow3 heathrow4

All images from wikipedia

Product info and buy link :

Title A week at the airport
Author Alain de Botton
Publisher Vintage
ISBN 978-0307739674
I got this book from Birgit at The Book Garden as a RAK
Buy link Buy A Week at the Airport
More info Heathrow’s website
and more Alain de Botton’s website
and more 5 minutes with Alain de Botton interview


Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.


Essays in love by Alain de Botton



"Essays in Love" will appeal to anyone who has ever been in a relationship or confused about love. The book charts the progress of a love affair from the first kiss to argument and reconciliation, from intimacy and tenderness to the onset of anxiety and heartbreak. The work’s genius lies in the way it minutely analyses emotions we’ve all felt before but have perhaps never understood so well: it includes a chapter on the anxieties of when and how to say ‘I love you’ and another on the challenges of disagreeing with someone else’s taste in shoes.While gripping the reader with the talent of a great novelist, de Botton brings a philosopher’s sensibility to his analyses of the emotions of love, resulting in a genre-breaking book that is at once touching and thought-provoking.

My thoughts: 

This is the second book I read for my “relationships topic” for the One, Two, Theme Challenge. I have been ogling some of Alain de Botton’s books for quite a while and finally decided to start with this one, as it was his debut novel. It certainly won’t be my last.

I absolutely loved his style here. Basically it is the story of a romance from the very beginning to the end and a bit further on, so that the reader knows that the cycle (at least for the male narrator) started all over again. And a cycle it is. The story is divided into chapters, like for example, “Romantic Fatalism”, talking about that the chance meeting of the soon to be lovers is actually fate, “The Subtext of Seduction”, talking about how to seduce the beloved properly and the thoughts behind it, “Contractions”, here black clouds are showing up on the horizon, and “The Jesus Complex” where eventually the one who was left behind comes to the conclusion everything is the other person’s fault. Every chapter describes one or more specific, often mundane, situations and then reflects upon them with the help of numerous philosophers. Really everybody will recognize him- or herself in those scenes, or, if not in a specific situation, at least in the general thoughts that are lying behind it.

I read some reviews on amazon saying that the romance was incredibly predictable and therefore the book was highly unoriginal. I disagree. The book was original simply BECAUSE the romance was so ordinary and predictable. The whole point of the book is to show how every romance takes its course in a predetermined way and the reason our romance here is so predictable is that everyone has experienced exactly that before.

I was not too enthusiastic about both the male and the female character. Probably I sympathize more with Chloe, however, because the man turns out to be a total jerk right after their first night together. She cooks a wonderful breakfast for him and he insists on having a certain jam, a flavour she hasn’t got. He acts so stupidly that I would have kicked him out right away, but Chloe puts up with his crap – amazingly what love can do to you. The narrator himself, who can’t explain his own behaviour at the time, later comes up with a reason for it which is not completely unfeasible.

This is what I liked about the book. Every little detail and nuance is looked at from all sorts of perspectives and talked about. I found it very insightful. I also liked the language, I don’t think there was one sentence I found boring or too much.

A nice little touch – if somewhat trite – was the fact that the beginning and the end of the romance not only take place on a plane, but also that the exact same sentence describes the landing of the plane and  the disembarking of the passengers. The circle is closed.

If you want to know more about ordinary relationships, how they work and about their dynamics, this is a must read.

Disclaimer: If you are a romantic and want to stay that way, better not touch this book. It takes a relationship apart and scrutinizes it minutely. The result is 100% realism with no room for romantic idealization. 

Judith has mentioned she didn’t like this book too much. If you would like to read what she had to say you can go the the comments of this blog post where she copied her Shelfari review.


Title Essays in love
Author Alain de Botton
Publisher Picador
ISBN 978-0330440783
Buy link Buy Essays in Love