Book Review: The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton


Editor’s Note:

This is certainly not a new book; however, this is both an example of writing a book review (for those new writers that would like an example to follow) and also my attempt to share a great book that I have on my shelf. I hope you enjoy this review, and that you’ll read the book. 

41kfsuz7jvl-_sx321_bo1204203200_Alain de Botton


The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton is not what readers might think when scanning its title. It’s not a book of travel advice, but yet, it is a book of advice that also talks about travel. It’s a book of short philosophical vignettes that also tells short stories of the author’s travel to various places. For the reader, it is a book that will hook you with clever, humorous, and eloquent expressiveness. It’s filled with witty aphorisms. For the writer, this book is a masterful example of using concrete descriptiveness and minute details to freeze a moment in time.

There is no Preface, Introduction, or front matter in the book, de Botton hits the proverbial gas pedal and jumps right into the art of traveling as he sees it.

De Botton is a Swiss-born philosopher and writer who, in his written works, shows purposeful connections between the arts, creativity, and philosophy. Critics of this book are often quoted as saying that de Botton gets bogged down in the mundane and simply states the obvious; however, The Art of Travel could hardly be described with such an oversimplification. One could scarcely depict the act of crafting concrete descriptions and moments of inspirational meditations as stating the obvious.

Others say de Botton has a brilliant talent for making articulate, philosophical arguments in simple, everyday terms, as he eloquently weaves them into his prose. This would be a more apt sketch of The Art of Travel. His other books never received a nonchalant shrug, and this one digs deeper into both the existential and the empirical travel event.

De Botton has an unusual and unique way of finding obscure angles in his stories that take the reader down paths, or, as some of his critics might say—rabbit holes, —that turn into interesting observations on art, a different view of obscure, exotic destinations, or a dreamy story of his disheartened or enthusiastic state of mind. De Botton is known for his ventures into the dark side of the mind.

His use of historical figures like Gustave Flaubert, in the portion titled “Motives,” extends a parallel view of travel, philosophy, and (whether he knew it or not) de Botton’s likeness to Flaubert, who was known for his obsession with finding the right words in each sentence. Flaubert was known to have renounced his nation of origin, France; however, he seemed to display a reoccurring theme that de Botton addresses concerning the strange tendency that humans have to wish they were somewhere other than where they are.

Interestingly enough, the book is listed under Political Science/Philosophy in terms of its genre (which is proper); however, a vast majority of reader reviews speak of this book as a beautiful travel companion, or a must read on the road.

Often de Botton’s writing waxes poetic. Probably because of his love of reading, studying the arts, examining the deeper meanings of poetry, etc. He suggests to the reader unorthodox ways to look at travel or, more specifically, how to “do” travel. His stories of excitement where none should be found, and disappointment where he expected to be exhilarated, are both funny and morose at times.

The act of “doing” travel rather than simply traveling is an interesting philosophical argument that de Botton posits. The book is sectioned into separate essays that mimic the various steps one takes to travel: Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art, and Return. Within each of these sections, de Botton mixes philosophical influences, well-known artists and artisans, and the anecdotal moments of his experiences into a stew of deep reflection, deliberation, or contemplation.

There is an old saying that geographical cures for finding happiness are nonexistent because “where ever you go, there you are.” De Botton postulates this point whether intentional or not. He leaves the reader with a harsh realization that we cannot escape who we are by traveling to some exotic island beach like the ones we see on any one of a thousand brochures. De Botton makes sure that he crushes that fantasy altogether; however, he advances another idea to replace this fiction that most people have in their heads about travel; he points to the concept of the road less traveled—to get off the beaten paths of these destinations, and in these moments, and places, one can find the real secrets and jewels of travel.

It seems that if you were to boil down the entirety of de Botton’s book to one message it would be that we are connected to our thoughts no matter where we go. If we travel to the most beautiful beach, restaurant, or five-star hotel and are too depressed to get out of bed before we leave, then we may find ourselves in the same sad state of mind when we arrive at our dream location.




  1. Hi, Scott. Anyone that can prompt you to describe a writer as, “de Botton has a brilliant talent for making articulate, philosophical arguments in simple, everyday terms, as he eloquently weaves them into his prose” is worth a read.

    Thanks for what could be another interesting story as well as good writing examples for my summer reading.

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