Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists - Review
Alain de Botton’s writing reminds me of another best-selling writer, Malcolm Gladwell (What the Dog Saw). Both write non-fiction that is as accessible and entertaining as it is erudite and illuminating. And like Gladwell, de Botton has not only a boundless curiosity, writing mostly non-fiction on topics that span the breadth of the human condition, but also that special journalistic gift of taking mounds of academic, and likely rather dry and incomprehensible research, and turning it into something fun and compelling to read.
My sister introduced me to the Swiss-born, English writer 15 years ago, with his first and only novel, On Love, published when de Botton was 23 (!). It is as much a love story as an analysis of the process of falling in and out of love. At over 2 million copies sold in over 30 countries around the world On Love is thus far his bestselling book and a thoroughly engrossing read, especially for those in the midst of the roller coaster highs and lows that typically begin (or end?) a relationship. Since then de Botton has focused exclusively on non-fiction. He has written books about architecture and happiness, about travel, status anxiety and one about Marcel Proust.
Religion for Atheists, de Botton’s eleventh book, supports a theory the Dalai Lama (The Art of Happiness) began disseminating a couple decades ago. It’s not necessary for a person to believe in or even adhere to the tenants of a given religion to benefit from at least some of its teachings. In this way the Dalai Lama has helped open Buddhism up to an increasingly secular world hungry for some of the moral and spiritual guidance religion can provide. The ever astute de Botton sees this gap in our current life. While some may come to believe in God or other supernatural deities, others are moving in the opposite direction. Many of us were born into religions that we remain culturally tied to in some way, and yet a lot of us struggle to ascribe to some of the more ethereal aspects of even our own faiths.