The Pequod Review:
Alain de Botton’s books work better when his subject is narrow (architecture, travel) rather than abstract (love, religion, art). Here is his most specific book and his best. De Botton’s subject is Marcel Proust’s seven-volume Remembrance of Things Past, and he has extracted specific (but by no means representative) parts of the book to create an entirely unique and witty philosophical self-help book. With chapter titles like “How to Live Life Today,” “How to Suffer Successfully,” and “How to Take Your Time,” de Botton’s overall theme is that Proust’s attention to detail can teach us important lessons on how to find meaning in our own day-to-day lives. Or as Proust put it, “when we discover the true lives of other people, the real world beneath the appearance, we get as many surprises as on visiting a house of plain exterior which inside is full of hidden treasures, torture chambers or skeletons.”
De Botton lets Proust speak for himself but adds insights and details that reveal a deep reading of the book and Proust’s life. And his sentences are written in a playful and insightful way that makes it a consistently enjoyable read.