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Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in December 1969 and educated in Switzerland and England. He speaks French, German and English and now lives in London.

His family originates from the Spanish peninsula, from the small Castilian town of Boton (now vanished). They left in 1492, along with the rest of the Sephardic Jewish community, and eventually settled in Alexandria, Egypt, where de Botton's father was born.

De Botton has written five books. His first novel, Essays in Love (entitled On Love in the US) was published in November 1993. His second novel, The Romantic Movement was published in September 1994. His third novel, Kiss and Tell was published in September 1995. His fourth book (and first non-fiction title), How Proust can change your life was published in April 1997 -- and was a bestseller in the US and UK. His books are published in twenty languages.

His fourth book, The Consolations of Philosophy, was published in the UK and US in April 2000. He has made a television documentary for British television (Channel 4) which accompanies the book. The Consolations of Philosophy has to date sold 150,000 copies in the UK alone.

Alain de Botton's newest book, The Art of Travel, was published in the spring of 2002. He is currently at work on a book about social hierarchy in the West, to be entitled 'Status Anxiety' and published in the spring of 2004.

Norman Goldman interviewed Alain in September 2002. You can also read Norman's review of THE ART OF TRAVEL at TheBestReviews.com


 
THE ART OF TRAVEL
Pantheon
July 2002
Buy Now

Writerspace: Before we deal specifically with your beautiful book, The Art of Travel, perhaps you can give us a brief resumé of your educational background and some of your other writings. How has your education influenced your writing? I detect that you have a very strong background in philosophy and that you have a command of French English and German. How has this affected your writing style? You have lived in several countries, has this had any influence on your ideas?

Alain: I was born in Switzerland in 1969, spoke French for the first 12 years, then switched to English. I studied history at Cambridge University and have since graduating written six books, 3 fiction, 3 non-fiction. I'm sure that living in different countries has given me a more European perspective on life - which means that instead of writing straight novels, I always had a taste for reflection on experience. I was particularly influenced by Proust, Montaigne, Stendhal and Flaubert at an impressionable age.

Writerspace: What made you want to write the Art of Travel and why did you approach the subject matter in the way it was presented, i.e. philosophical and poetic?

Alain: I wanted to write about the influence of places on our psychology. Having written about people, I now wanted to write about beauty - why we want it, what it does to us. I also wanted to make the book descriptive. ie. not just assert things about beauty, but try to show them as well.

Writerspace: In your book you remind us that travel is a learning experience and by effectively employing our senses we will be handsomely rewarded. Was there any one event or experience that led you to this conclusion?

Alain: I'm constantly reminded of the difference there can be between experiencing something with one's senses open or closed. It's really the difference between looking at things like an artist and like an ordinary person.

Writerspace: Did you find it difficult to blend your own images with the aesthetic endeavours and travel experiences of some of the most renowned authors and painters such as, William Wordsworth, Gustave Flaubert, Edward Hopper, Vincent van Gough, John Ruskin, Charles Baudelaire, and Alexander von Humboldt? I notice you were extremely effective in accomplishing this feat and it would seem this would be a daunting task. Without divulging your secrets, perhaps you can give us some idea as to your "modus operandi." How do you decide to refer to a particular author rather than another?

Alain: My choice of authors really followed a very personal taste. I didn't set out to cover all the big travel writers, and the people I've gone for are really all people who principally do things other than travel, but who I catch on their travels. It was difficult to get the tone of the book right, and there were many early drafts that had to be thrown away. It was a new kind of writing for me, a new descriptive kind of writing - and I was afraid and felt like a beginner. Writing is always a challenge for me.

Writerspace: What is your reaction when you receive some nasty reviews? I read some of the reviews and I must admit some were brutal, although I did not concur with the reviewer in the assessment of your work.

Alain: I tend to get upset by bad reviews - but generally try to seperate out what I think is fair from what is unfair. The most upsetting reviews are not necessarily the nastiest, they are the most accurate. Nothing hurts quite like the truth.

Writerspace: In several instances I could easily identify with your perceptions. At what age did you begin to perceive travel in the manner portrayed in the book?

Alain: I've never travelled that much, but I do remember that from the age of 10 or 11, I was fascinated by the mechanics of travel. I was particularly interested in hotels, trains and planes.

Writerspace: How would you like us to remember Alain de Botton and what message or advice would you like us to retain?

Alain: I'd like to be remembered as someone who had a shot at trying out a kind of essayistic writing, which blended the personal and the philosophical, in search of practical answers for how to deal with the problems of everyday life.

Writerspace: What are your future projects?

Alain: I'm currently writing a book called 'Status Anxiety,' due for spring 2004, about the social hierarchy in the West since 1776. A small task...

Writerspace: Thanks, Alain, for your time and for your welcome charming contribution to the world of travel literature. Good Luck with all of your future endeavours.

Alain: Thanks for the great questions. I hope that helps, best, Alain

If you want to learn more about Alain de Botton you can click on his site at http://www.Alaindebotton.com


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