Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: The Art of Travel

Art of Travel
The Art of Travel, by Alain De Botton: Not a travel guide, but a guide to seeing places with fresh eyes. B-

From The Art of Travel, by Alain De Botton (2002):
Open quote 

My motive was simple and hedonistic: I was looking for beauty. 'Delight and enliven me' was my implicit challenge to the olive trees, cypresses and skies of Provence."

After the jump, my review and excerpts.

Using his own travels as a foundation, De Botton draws lessons from writers and artists who traveled to the same locations a century or two earlier. Using chapter titles like "On Curiosity" and "On the Sublime," and "guides" like Flaubert, Wordsworth and van Gogh, De Botton teaches the modern traveler how these experts saw places and things in ways that ordinary people never had before. They range from the globe-trotting (Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, by Alexander von Humboldt) to the hyper-local (Journey around My Bedroom, by Xavier de Maistre).

Part travelogue, part philosophy, part self-help guide, The Art of Travel is always entertaining. It's an easy read for a weighty subject. Read it before you go, read it on the plane or on the beach, but do read it. It will help you see places with fresh eyes.


"Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains. ... Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape."

"A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making itself apparent: I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island."

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

"In my backpack, I am carrying a torch, a sun hat and Edmund Burke."

"Instead of bringing back sixteen thousand new plant species, we might return from our journeys with a collection of small, unfeted but life-enhancing thoughts."

"The poet proposed that nature ... was an indispensable corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by life in the city. The message met with vicious initial resistance."

"A few moments in the countryside overlooking a valley could number among the most significant and useful of one's life, and be as worthy of precise remembrance as a birthday or a wedding."

"Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically introduces viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves."

"It is no coincidence that the Western attraction to sublime landscapes developed at precisely the moment when traditional beliefs in God began to wane."

"If drawing had value even when practised by those with no talent, it was, Ruskin believed, because it could teach us to see -- that is, to notice rather than merely look."

"I forced myself to obey a strange sort of mental command: I was to look around me as though I had never been in this place before. And slowly, my travels began to bear fruit."


S. said...

One of my favorite authors. I got hooked when reading a couple of his older novels, "On love" and "The romantic movement". He has a new book titled "Religion for atheists" coming out in March.

Mark Steger said...

Thanks, Steve, for the recommendation. I had never heard of Alain De Botton and stumbled across The Art of Travel when browsing the e-books available from the Richardson Public Library. It was a lucky find.

S. said...

I happened to get involved in selecting some YA books for the library ebook collection and couldn't resist slipping in a few of my non YA favorites for readers to stumble across and hopefully enjoy. The Art of Travel was one of them. Mission accomplished.