Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Top Tips from the Modern Polonius; Books

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Top Tips from the Modern Polonius; Books

Article excerpt


STATUS ANXIETY by Alain de Botton (Hamish Hamilton, [pounds sterling]16.99)

I FEEL slightly ambivalent about reviewing this book since status anxiety is precisely the feeling that Alain de Botton provokes in me. For one thing, his last book sold a lot more copies than mine. Then there's the fact that he went to Harrow, while I went to a bog-standard comprehensive. Finally, he lives in a much bigger house than me in west London in spite of being five years younger.

Luckily, help is at hand. The second half of Status Anxiety, titled Solutions, is devoted to strategies for alleviating this condition. Under various headings - Philosophy, Art, Comedy, Politics, Christianity and Bohemia - de Botton helpfully enumerates the various ways in which people at the bottom of the status ladder can comfort themselves.

One such solution is to think about death: "Aside from reflecting on our own mortality, it can also be a relief from status anxiety to dwell on the death of other people, in particular on the death of those whose achievements are now apt to leave us feeling most inadequate and envious."

By the time I got to this sentence I'd learned to recognise it as vintage de Botton. He's in the habit of regurgitating a fairly rudimentary bit of common sense with the air of someone imparting a startlingly original observation.

Status Anxiety contains one of these Polonius-like pearls of wisdom on every page. Here he is on the subject of Happiness: "We are led to imagine ourselves scaling the steep sides of the cliff face of happiness to reach a wide, high plateau on which to continue our lives; we are not reminded that soon after reaching the summit we will be called down again into fresh lowlands of anxiety and despair."

In other words, money can't buy happiness. (He should know: in 1999 his father sold his asset management company for [pounds sterling]456 million.) What is so odd about de Botton is that he genuinely doesn't seem to be aware that such thoughts might have occurred to other people.

His website, which I assume is written by him, even though he refers to himself in the third person, contains the following passage towards the end of a potted biography: "In his latest book de Botton looks at an almost universal anxiety that rarely gets mentioned directly: an anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we're judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.