The Art of Travel

Alain de Botton Character Analysis

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 life (particularly relationships and love). In The Art of Travel, he compares the travels of such artists and writers to his own travel experiences in Barbados, Amsterdam, Madrid, the English Lake District, Provence, and his home neighborhood of Hammersmith, London. His writing focuses on his own reactions to encountering new cities and landscapes, and although he is initially disappointed by his trip to Barbados, by the end of the book he learns to freely employ the “travel mind-set” (receptivity to and humility before the world) even at home in London. In particular, he believes that travel can offer people important lessons about their personal character, aesthetic values, overall well-being, and sense of direction in life.

Alain de Botton Quotes in The Art of Travel

The The Art of Travel quotes below are all either spoken by Alain de Botton or refer to Alain de Botton . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Art of Travel published in 2002.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Readers who would have been capable of scepticism and prudence in other areas of their lives reverted, in contact with these elements, to a primordial innocence and optimism. The longing provoked by the brochure was an example, at once touching and bathetic, of how projects (and even whole lives) might be influenced by the simplest and most unexamined images of happiness; of how a lengthy and ruinously expensive journey might be set into motion by nothing more than the sight of a photograph of a palm tree gently inclining in a tropical breeze.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker)
Page Number: 8-9
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If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its ardour and paradoxes—than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside of the constraints of work and the struggle for survival. Yet rarely are they considered to present philosophical problems—that is, issues requiring thought beyond the practical. We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but we hear little of why and how we should go, even though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia, or ‘human flourishing.’

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker)
Page Number: 9
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I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker)
Page Number: 19
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Des Esseintes conclude, in Huysmans’s words, that “the imagination could provide a more-than-adequate substitute for the vulgar reality of actual experience.” Actual experience where what we have come to see is always diluted in what we could see anywhere, where we are drawn away from the present by an anxious future and where our appreciation of aesthetic elements lies at the mercy of perplexing physical and psychological demands.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), J. K. Huysmans (speaker), Duc des Esseintes
Page Number: 26
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Chapter 2 Quotes

“Life is a hospital in which every patient is obsessed with changing beds: this one wants to suffer in front of the radiator, and that one thinks he’d get better if he was by the window.”

Related Characters: Charles Baudelaire  (speaker), Alain de Botton
Page Number: 32
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The twenty-four-hour diner, the station waiting room and the motel are sanctuaries for those who have, for noble reasons, failed to find a home in the ordinary world—those whom Baudelaire might have dignified with the honorific poets.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Charles Baudelaire , Edward Hopper
Page Number: 51
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Chapter 3 Quotes

What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Gustave Flaubert
Page Number: 77
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Yet none of this meant that Flaubert’s original attraction to Egypt had been misconceived. He simply replaced an absurdly idealized image with a more realistic but nevertheless still profoundly admiring one, he exchanged a youthful crush for a knowledgeable love.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Gustave Flaubert
Page Number: 95
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We are all of us, without ever having any say in the matter, scattered at birth by the wind onto various countries, but like Flaubert, we are in adulthood granted the freedom imaginatively to re-create our identity in line with our true allegiances.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Gustave Flaubert
Page Number: 98
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Chapter 4 Quotes

The guidebook might have added, “and where there must be something wrong with the traveller who cannot agree.”

111

Page Number: 111
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Chapter 5 Quotes

What though the radiance which was so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

Related Characters: William Wordsworth (speaker), Alain de Botton
Page Number: 131
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One of Wordsworth’s poetic ambitions was to induce us to see the many animals living alongside us that we typically ignore, registering them only out of the corner of our eyes and feeling no appreciation for what they are up to and want: shadowy, generic presences such as the bird up on the steeple and the rustling creature in the bush. He invited his readers to abandon their usual perspectives and to consider for a time how the world might look through other eyes, to shuttle between the human and the natural perspective. Why might this be interesting, or even inspiring? Perhaps because unhappiness can stem from having only one perspective to play with.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), William Wordsworth
Page Number: 147
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Chapter 6 Quotes

The value of landscapes would henceforth be decided not solely on the basis of formal aesthetic criteria (the harmony of colours, for example, or the arrangement of lines) or even economic or practical concerns, but rather according to the power of places to arouse the mind to sublimity.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Edmund Burke
Page Number: 163
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The world may appear illogical to you, but it does not follow that it is illogical per se. Our lives are not the measure of all things: consider sublime places for a reminder of human insignificance and frailty.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), God, Job
Page Number: 171
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Chapter 7 Quotes

Because we find places to be beautiful as immediately and apparently spontaneously as we find snow to be cold or sugar sweet, it is hard to imagine that there is anything we might do to alter or expand our attractions. It seems that matters have been decided for us by qualities inherent in the places themselves or by hardwiring in our psyches, and that we would therefore be as helpless to modify our sense of the places we find beautiful as we would our preference for the ice creams we find appetizing.

Yet aesthetic tastes may be less rigid than this analogy suggests. We overlook certain places because nothing has ever prompted us to conceive of them as being worthy of appreciation, or because some unfortunate but random association has turned us against them.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Vincent van Gogh
Page Number: 182
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It was for van Gogh the mark of every great painter to enable viewers to see certain aspects of the world more clearly.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Vincent van Gogh
Page Number: 186
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‘Completely true to nature!’—what a lie:
How could nature ever be constrained into a picture?
The smallest bit of nature is infinite!
And so he paints what he likes about it.
And what does he like? He likes what he can paint!

Nietzsche 188

Related Characters: Friedrich Nietzsche (speaker), Alain de Botton , Vincent van Gogh
Page Number: 188
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A few years after van Gogh’s stay in Provence, Oscar Wilde remarked that there had been no fog in London before Whistler painted it. Surely, too, there were fewer cypresses in Provence before van Gogh painted them.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Vincent van Gogh
Page Number: 192
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Chapter 8 Quotes

A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is to wish to hold on to it, to possess it and give it weight in one’s life. There is an urge to say, “I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.”

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), William Wordsworth, John Ruskin
Page Number: 214
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The camera blurs the distinction between looking and noticing, between seeing and possessing; it may give us the option of true knowledge, but it may also unwittingly make the effort of acquiring that knowledge seem superfluous. It suggests that we have done all the work simply by taking a photograph, whereas proper eating of a place—a woodland, for example—requires that we pose ourselves a series of questions such as “How do the stems connect to the roots?” “Where is the mist coming from?” “Why does one tree seem darker than another?” These questions are implicitly asked and answered in the process of sketching.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), John Ruskin
Page Number: 220
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Chapter 9 Quotes

“The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room”—Pascal, Pensées, 136.

Related Characters: Blaise Pascal (speaker), Alain de Botton , Xavier de Maistre
Page Number: 239
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The reason people were not looking was that they had never done so before. They had fallen into the habit of considering their universe to be boring—and their universe had duly fallen into line with their expectations.

1111

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), John Ruskin
Page Number: 243
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On entering a new space, our sensitivity is directed towards a number of elements, which we gradually reduce in line with the function we find for the space. Of the four thousand things there might be to see and reflect on in a street, we end up being actively aware of only a few: the number of humans in our path, perhaps, the amount of traffic and the likelihood of rain.

1101

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker)
Page Number: 246
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In an autobiographical note written in 1801 in South America, Alexander von Humboldt specified his motive for traveling: “I was spurred on by an uncertain longing to be transported from a boring daily life to a marvellous world.” It was this very dichotomy, “boring daily life” pitted against “marvellous world,” that de Maistre had tried to redraw with greater subtlety.

1111

Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:
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Alain de Botton Character Timeline in The Art of Travel

The timeline below shows where the character Alain de Botton appears in The Art of Travel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: On Anticipation
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...sky” hangs over every day, like something out of a Renaissance painting of the crucifixion. Alain de Botton remembers spending the previous summer in the neighborhood park that is now “a desolate spread... (full context)
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The weather made de Botton “intensely susceptible” to a travel brochure that he received in the mail, which depicted palm... (full context)
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De Botton suggests that the brochure’s authors “insulted the intelligence and contravened any notions of free will”... (full context)
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De Botton argues that “our lives are dominated by a search for happiness,” and travels reveal much... (full context)
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...reality” is an important philosophical question that J.K. Huysmans addresses in his novel À Rebours, de Botton says. Huysmans’s protagonist, the “effete and misanthropic” Duc des Esseintes, lives alone on his estate,... (full context)
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Whereas a traveler like des Esseintes might find the reality of travel disappointing, de Botton finds it “truer and more rewarding to suggest that it is primarily different.” When he... (full context)
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De Botton recognizes that, while imagining his travels, he had selectively ignored everything about the island except... (full context)
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De Botton argues that art and the imagination both operate basically through the “simplification or selection” of... (full context)
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De Botton credits this fact—that books and art erase the dull parts of life—with the consequence that... (full context)
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De Botton recalls that the Duc des Esseintes always wanted to visit one other place: Holland. After... (full context)
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In the morning in Barbados, de Botton walks out onto his hotel room’s veranda and climbs across the railing onto the beach.... (full context)
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But “this description only imperfectly reflects what occurred within me,” de Botton admits as he remembers his state of distraction and worry throughout that morning. He declares,... (full context)
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Happiness during travel, de Botton argues, is brief and “apparently haphazard” rather than continuous and predictable. It comes when a... (full context)
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As M. and de Botton sit outside their beach hut later that morning, M. begins to read and de Botton... (full context)
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...memory—travelers can sustain a greater “fidelity to a place” where they are not currently standing. De Botton suggests that part of the problem is that he had never tried to “stare at... (full context)
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Near the end of their trip, de Botton and M. drive around Barbados and stop in an enormous colonial mansion that has been... (full context)
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De Botton notes that, before people can enjoy the beauty of the places to which they travel,... (full context)
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...always diluted in what we could see anywhere” and caught up with personal anxieties. While de Botton sympathizes with des Esseintes’ concern, he nevertheless continues traveling. (full context)
Chapter 2: On Traveling Places
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...breakfast foods stands by the highway between London and Manchester. Arriving late in the day, De Botton notices the restaurant’s bright lights and garish photographs of food before bringing his chocolate bar... (full context)
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From his childhood onwards, de Botton writes, the 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire never quite fit into any social environment: he... (full context)
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De Botton says that he often goes to Heathrow airport when he feels sad, and finds comfort... (full context)
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...ships, which he found a technological wonder representing “all the signs and ambitions of humanity.” De Botton feels the same way about airplanes, whose “agility” and “self-possession” set them apart from buildings,... (full context)
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De Botton finds it remarkable that “we are flying over a cloud,” which would have shocked great... (full context)
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Back at the service station by the highway, de Botton notes that no other road leads to this place, which belongs “to some third, travellers’... (full context)
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Hopper actually read Baudelaire throughout his life, which de Botton finds understandable given their “shared interests in solitude, in city life, in modernity, in the... (full context)
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...otherwise recall. He depicted them in paintings like Compartment C, Car 293 (p. 55), and de Botton agrees that “journeys are the midwives of thought” because the “flow of the landscape” distracts... (full context)
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During his own train journey, de Botton thinks about his father’s death and an essay he is writing, an argument among friends,... (full context)
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...“nature and community against the rigours, the cold abstinence, the selfish ease of ordinary society.” De Botton agrees, seeing traveling places as an alternative to the routine drudgery of contemporary everyday life. (full context)
Chapter 3: On the Exotic
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When he disembarks in the Amsterdam airport, de Botton is immediately fascinated by the exotic exit sign he sees overhead: the sign’s simplicity and... (full context)
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...“an improvement on what my own country is capable of”—the exit sign seems to promise de Botton new possibilities of happiness. (full context)
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De Botton recognizes that “the word exotic has traditionally been attached to more colourful things than Dutch... (full context)
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Back in Amsterdam, de Botton books a hotel room, eats lunch in a café, and then sets out on a... (full context)
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In front of one door, de Botton “felt an intense longing to spend the rest of my life there.” He notices an... (full context)
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...its “fugitive, trivial” sense, “exotic” often simply denotes the pleasure people take in novelty. But de Botton sees a “more profound pleasure” in the exotic: it points to how the norms of... (full context)
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Just as de Botton ’s own attraction to Amsterdam relates to his dissatisfaction with London, Flaubert’s hatred for the... (full context)
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...all else, writing that “nothing has a more singular grace than this melancholic animal.” In de Botton ’s eyes, Flaubert loved the camel’s “stoicism and ungainliness,” its humble and awkward strength that... (full context)
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In Amsterdam, de Botton sees a woman, who seems to belong there, pushing a bicycle whose basket contains her... (full context)
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The exoticism of a foreign country adds to attractive people’s appeal, de Botton argues, and perhaps one’s attraction to those from another place is part of one’s attempt... (full context)
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De Botton wonders whether Flaubert’s interest in Egypt was merely an ideal fantasy he projected onto it.... (full context)
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Yet de Botton insists that Flaubert “exchanged a youthful crush” on Egypt “for a knowledgeable love” of it.... (full context)
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...end of his life, and even spoke of it on his deathbed. This lifelong fixation, de Botton argues, “seems like an invitation to deepen and respect our own attraction to certain countries.” (full context)
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...to his countrymen and declared himself “a soul brother to everything that lives.” Like Flaubert, de Botton argues, all people are “scattered at birth by the wind onto various countries,” but gain... (full context)
Chapter 4: On Curiosity
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De Botton goes to Madrid for a conference and decides to stay through the weekend, although he... (full context)
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After a maid interrupts de Botton in his hotel room three times, he decides to get up and moving to avoid... (full context)
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...facts,” as in its detailed description of the Pontificia de San Miguel, a church that de Botton finds hideous. (full context)
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De Botton ties his boredom and lack of curiosity to the difference between tourism and factual expeditions.... (full context)
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De Botton quickly realizes that “new factual discoveries” are now impossible, however, and his guidebook confirms this... (full context)
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De Botton takes another look at the Palacio de Santa Cruz and wonders whether the kinds of... (full context)
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The historical “explorers” who presumably wrote de Botton ’s guidebook also took it upon themselves to decide what mattered and what did not.... (full context)
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De Botton wonders what “an uninhibited guide to Madrid” based on his own subjective rankings would look... (full context)
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...the landscape, like the heights where he found lichens, moss, a butterfly, and a fly. De Botton wonders about the origin of this curiosity, and suggests that these minor details mattered because... (full context)
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De Botton thinks of curiosity as “made up of chains of small questions extending outwards, sometimes over... (full context)
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...connect the guidebook’s bare facts to the “large, blunt questions” at the center of curiosity. De Botton suggests that a tourist visiting the church might want to ask about why people build... (full context)
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De Botton warns about the danger “that we may see things at the wrong time, before we... (full context)
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...in his life, Humboldt lamented that people complained he was “curious about too many things.” De Botton lauds this wide-ranging curiosity, but also hopes the reader will be sympathetic for travelers who... (full context)
Chapter 5: On the Country and the City
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Planning to take an afternoon train out of London, de Botton meets M. in Euston Station, where he finds it “miraculous” that he can find her... (full context)
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De Botton sees his motivations for traveling to the Lake District as at once personal and historical,... (full context)
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De Botton and M. arrive at their mediocre hotel and wondered about an owl they hear outside... (full context)
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De Botton excerpts Wordsworth poems about the lively mountains, a sparrow’s nest and a nightingale’s song, behind... (full context)
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...few of these ills” as he walks out of a gathering in London one day, de Botton becomes infatuated with the sight of a cloud overhead, and begins to calm down as... (full context)
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De Botton asks why nature would have this healing effect, and turns back to his own trip,... (full context)
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Huge oak trees line the path, and de Botton notes the orderliness of their branches and leaves, which he contrasts with other kinds of... (full context)
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De Botton notes that Wordsworth’s argument relies on the premise that human identity can change “according to... (full context)
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...near his house and a pair of swans that moved nearby. After the rain passed, de Botton and M. hear a group of birds calling out and then see another, a black-eared... (full context)
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From a bush by a stream ahead, de Botton hears “a noise like the sound of a lethargic old man clearing his throat after... (full context)
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...their usual perspective” and see the world from both “the human and the natural perspective.” De Botton suggests that confinement to a single perspective might be a source of unhappiness. In one... (full context)
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...the novelty in everyday things, awaken people to the wonders of the world, and perhaps, de Botton suggests, “encourage us to locate the good in ourselves.” (full context)
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After three days, M. and de Botton head back to London and notice the very temporary character of nature’s psychological benefits. Wordsworth... (full context)
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De Botton had a “spot of time” too, when he and M. ate chocolate bars near Ambleside... (full context)
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Beside a lake near where de Botton and M. stayed, Wordsworth saw daffodils “dancing in the breeze” and kept them alive as... (full context)
Chapter 6: On the Sublime
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Proclaiming his lifelong affinity for deserts, de Botton decides to visit the Sinai Desert from the Israeli resort town of Eilat. On the... (full context)
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De Botton goes to the desert “so as to be made to feel small.” While people do... (full context)
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After two days in the Sinai, de Botton ’s group of travelers approach a barren valley with mountains “like naked Alps” and gashes... (full context)
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Usually, de Botton says, emotions that people feel in particular places require “awkward piles of words” rather than... (full context)
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...dust postponed,” weakened and rightly intoxicated by the power of natural forces. In his bag, De Botton has brought the work of Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, who argued that things were sublime... (full context)
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Why, de Botton asks, do people seek out the sublime and derive pleasure from it? He first responds... (full context)
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Accordingly, de Botton argues, “it does not seem unusual to start thinking of a deity in the Sinai,”... (full context)
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Indeed, many early theorists of the sublime saw it as proof of God’s existence, and de Botton sees a connection between the rise of the sublime as a cultural phenomenon and the... (full context)
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...I laid the foundations of the earth?” and references to the enormity of nature. As de Botton puts it, God tells Job, “do not be surprised that things have not gone your... (full context)
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De Botton thinks that God’s answer to Job also holds value for secular people, for the sublime... (full context)
Chapter 7: On Eye-Opening Art
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Some friends invite de Botton to a farmhouse in Provence, in the South of France. He admits that Provence is... (full context)
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...new places, so they might think that their aesthetic attractions are hardwired and inalterable. But de Botton disagrees, suggesting that a failure to see something as worth appreciating or an accidental negative... (full context)
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...portrait, they are saying that the painter has focused on the wrong elements; “bad art,” de Botton argues, “might thus be defined as a series of bad choices about what to show... (full context)
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In the farmhouse, de Botton reads a book on van Gogh because he cannot fall asleep and then, the next... (full context)
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Similarly, although he had dismissed Provence’s olive trees as uninteresting the previous day, now de Botton notices the “ferocity” of their branches and the “alertness and contained energy” of their leaves.... (full context)
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...the painter’s death, which memorializes the places he painted with plaques around the region. When de Botton brings his hosts to the trail, they happen upon a guided tour of it, led... (full context)
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...scenery to his work. One Australian woman declares, “well, it doesn’t much look like that.” De Botton notes that van Gogh faced similar criticism during his lifetime, for he sacrificed features like... (full context)
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De Botton sees this as a justifiable artistic choice, however, for—as Nietzsche said in the earlier quote... (full context)
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While de Botton , like most of the people on the walk, finds himself newly enthusiastic about van... (full context)
Chapter 8: On Possessing Beauty
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Even if most places have little lasting effect on the viewer, de Botton explains, a few “possess a quality that might clumsily be called beauty.” He has encountered... (full context)
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Following Ruskin, de Botton decides to try drawing. He tries to draw the window of his bedroom at the... (full context)
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Ruskin wanted people to not only draw but also “word-paint.” De Botton notes that people often lack the language to describe beautiful places, but Ruskin thought this... (full context)
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De Botton steps back and describes a man parked on the side of the road near some... (full context)
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De Botton then felt a desire to possess the buildings’ beauty, and he began word-painting them in... (full context)
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De Botton concludes that, despite his word-paintings’ middling quality, he nevertheless pursued Ruskin’s two goals for art:... (full context)
Chapter 9: On Habit
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Returning from Barbados to London, de Botton discovers “that the city had stubbornly refused to change.” London is “unimpressed,” still grey and... (full context)
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De Botton again quotes Pascal’s Pensées: “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not... (full context)
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De Botton declares that de Maistre’s trip “did not get very far.” De Maistre changes into his... (full context)
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But de Botton sees de Maistre’s book as founded on the “profound and suggestive insight” that travel’s mind-set... (full context)
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De Botton states that receptivity, which leads people to approach places without pride or unrealistic expectations, is... (full context)
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De Botton ’s bedroom is too small for a real voyage, so he decides to instead travel... (full context)
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...to perform there, until they pare their sensitivity down to just a few things like—during de Botton ’s walk to the train—“the number of humans in our path, perhaps, the amount of... (full context)
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During this walk, however, de Botton wants to “reverse the process of habituation, to dissociate my surroundings from the uses I... (full context)
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De Botton explains that he prefers to travel alone, because others can often shape people’s expectations, personality,... (full context)
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...deserts, ice caps, and jungles without leaving any mark of their travels on their souls, de Botton concludes, de Maistre wanted people, “before taking off for distant hemispheres, to notice what we... (full context)