Alain de Botton
The author and narrator of the book. De Botton is a Swiss-born British essayist famous for his controversial pop-philosophy self-help books that explore canonical European thinkers’ relevance to a wide variety of topics in everyday… read analysis of Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton’s girlfriend and traveling companion in Barbados and the Lake District. M. spends much of their vacation in Barbados reading on the beach before the couple gets in a heated argument over… read analysis of M.
Duc des Esseintes
The protagonist of J.K. Huysmans’ famous novel À Rebours, the Duc des Esseintes is a wealthy, decadent French nobleman who loves imagining voyages to foreign lands. After becoming enamored with Dutch painting, he… read analysis of Duc des Esseintes
The famous 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire, whom de Botton profiles in his second essay, grew up as something of a misfit in French society: he did not get along with his family, schoolmates, or… read analysis of Charles Baudelaire
Alexander von Humboldt
A German polymath (an expert in many subjects) who traveled in South America from 1799 until 1804 and wrote thirty volumes about the broad range of scientific discoveries he made there. From an early age… read analysis of Alexander von Humboldt
An English poet who lived his whole life in the Lake District, Wordsworth transformed the British public’s attitude toward the countryside by arguing that people from the city needed to spend time in nature in… read analysis of William Wordsworth
An 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman whose A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful revolutionized European thinking on the concept of the sublime. He argued that, whereas… read analysis of Edmund Burke
De Botton sees the sublime as pointing to the existence of a higher power. He calls this God, referring to the traditional Abrahamic God who supposedly performed many of his greatest acts in the Sinai… read analysis of God
A Biblical character who suddenly loses his immense wealth and good fortune when most of his livestock are stolen, his eldest son is killed, and he becomes covered in sores. He asks God what he… read analysis of Job
Vincent van Gogh
A 19th century Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who remains one of the most influential artists in Western art. He lived the last three years of his life in Arles, in French Provence, where he produced the… read analysis of Vincent van Gogh
A 19th-century British thinker and critic famous for the drawing classes he offered to English commoners. During his privileged childhood, Ruskin’s parents cultivated his interest in art, but he believed that people of all social… read analysis of John Ruskin
Xavier de Maistre
A 19th-century French aristocrat, military man, and writer whose book Journey around My Bedroom Alain de Botton analyzes in his final essay. De Maistre did travel extensively for his military duties, but de Botton thinks… read analysis of Xavier de Maistre
A prominent 19th-century German philosopher whom Alain de Botton frequently quotes throughout his book. He argued that travel can be valuable because it allows people to learn information that they can use to enrich their… read analysis of Friedrich Nietzsche
A 17th-century French scientist, mathematician, theologian, and philosopher whose most famous work, Pensées (“Thoughts”), Alain de Botton frequently cites throughout The Art of Travel. Most importantly, John Ruskin’s arguments for the virtues of… read analysis of Blaise Pascal
J. K. Huysmans
The pen name of Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans, a 19th-century French novelist and civil servant. He is best remembered for the decadent novel À Rebours (“Against Nature”), whose main character, the Duc des Esseintes, de Botton profiles in his first essay (“On Anticipation”).
Maxime Du Camp
Gustave Flaubert’s extremely practical friend and traveling companion in Egypt from 1849-1851. Later, he wrote a book critical of Flaubert, whose literary success outshone his own.