The School of Life: Volume 1

Edited by writer/philosopher Alain de Botton, this simply written but profoundly conceptual volume is a set of self-help books written for thinkers, not idiots.
The School of Life: Volume 1
Edited by writer/philosopher Alain de Botton, The School of Life: Volume 1 is a collection of intelligent, insightful and beautifully written self-help books, compiled by influential and leading minds in their fields. Though profoundly conceptual, the books are written in a simple and friendly language, and instruct us – simply and effectively – on how to live a more fulfilled life.
This volume – three books in one – examines some of the greatest issues of our modern lives: sex, money and digital technology.
Of the ‘School of Life’ cultural enterprise, de Botton states that ‘the idea is to challenge traditional universities and reorganize knowledge, directing it towards life, and away from knowledge for its own sake. In a modest way, it’s an institution that is trying to give people what universities should I think always give them: a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture’.
In the first book of this volume, How to Think More about Sex, penned by de Botton himself, the author begins by stating a fact that few of us are ready to admit: that humanity is often ‘odd’ about sex and reluctant to share urges, desires and fantasies that may be considered obscene. Such unconventional and hidden facets of society like this are rarely spoken about with the honesty, matter-of-factness, empathy and understanding that is present in this book. And with erotic, satisfying sex being a rare achievement of biology, psychology and good timing, de Botton sets out to help us achieve a deeper understanding of sex itself, the fundamental roots of ourselves, our sexual thoughts and desires, why we do the things we do, and how this impacts on our daily lives and relationships with others.
In the second book in this volume, How to Worry Less about Money, author John Armstrong begins by stating that worries about money and finances tend to fall into four main groups: the perception that the absence of money will cause a person to experience pain and frustration; the perception that money is unreliable and will cause a person to spend most of their life just making enough to get by; the perception that a lack of money will inhibit a person and cause them to miss out on the things that they long for; and the philosophy that money is like a virus, and is indifferent to justice, merit or suffering. The author then uses these four ideas as a conceptual foundation for the book, and explains how these common human worries can be overcome by simple mind work and alteration of perceptions.
Perhaps one of the most interesting concepts Armstrong suggests is that money is just a neutral degree of exchange, and that any feelings, insecurities or fears associated with money are conjured merely by the individual themselves. Essentially then, the book’s central aim is to educate readers on how they can think more insightfully, purposefully and productively about money, to avoid unnecessary stress and emotions, and to achieve the highest fulfilment possible in their daily lives.

In the final instalment of this volume, How to Thrive in the Digital Age, Tom Chatfield articulates what it means to live in the modern, digital era; how we can thrive and flourish in a world governed by text messages, social media, televisions and monitors; how to make the most of opportunities and possibilities and how we, as individuals, can realise our potential within the digital sphere. From delving into the history of technology, to suggesting ways we can improve the productivity of our ‘online’ and ‘offline’ time, Chatfield delivers a beautifully written discussion on the impact of technology in our lives, and how we can examine ourselves, our routines and our choices and technological use to gain more fulfilment and personal joy in our everyday living.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The School of Life: Volume 1
Edited by Alain de Botton
Trade paperback, 455 pp, RRP $34.99
ISBN: 978-1-4472-2372-6
Pan Macmillan

Jasmine Jean

Tuesday 20 November, 2012

About the author

Jasmine Jean is an emerging Australian visual artist, writer and musician from North Queensland.