Monday, 2 March 2009

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

Why do we travel? What motivates us? Why do we choose to go to certain places? What should we do once we get there? What is anticipation? These are just some of the questions posed, explored and answered in Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel. Anyone who is familiar with de Botton knows that he has an exceptional way with simplification: of making what normally sounds too big and complex an idea into an attainable understanding. He has done it again with this book about travel, exploring in concise, very readable narrative the psychology behind travelling as we know it today, and how it can enrich our lives, and live up to our expectations.

De Botton's method of using the helpful examples of writers, artists and thinkers such as Gustave Flaubert, Edward Hopper, Vincent Van Gough and William Wordsworth makes the reader relate these people's worlds to our modern one - and draw surprising similarities. In each chapter, a different 'guide' is introduced, and as de Botton talks about the various psychologies, motivations and experiences we have as travellers, he underlines them with the thoughts, experiences and creations of these artists. In doing so, he gives us an art lesson, history lesson, and enlightens us to different passages of thought in a lucid, flowing manner - we become unsuspecting pupils. There is plenty of food for thought here, without the boring convoluted blah of a textbook.

For those who like to travel and appreciate art and literature, I highly recommend this one. At the very least, it will give you a new perspective on travelling and leave you with plenty to think about and refer to next time you sit on a train, or a plane, or a boat. Even if you're not exactly a frequent flyer, de Botton's ideas are interesting and he delves into the emotional side of things too. His voice manages to stay neutral; he doesn't become impassioned although he references poets, artists and writers who are dramatic and passionate. What you get from him is perspective, information, an easy path into bigger ideas. I think it's perfect - I don't necessarily want someone telling me how to live - I want people to show me different ways; broaden my boundaries; and unfurl my imagination.

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