Indeed, there is something ersatz, if not quite fraudulent, about de Botton’s entire intellectual enterprise: he often seems like a grad student who shows up to seminar having done just enough of the reading to participate by jumping on other people’s comments, but who never makes an original observation of his own. He is constantly quoting and alluding to great figures — Jane Austen, John Stuart Mill, Stendhal, and Freud, among others, all get name-dropped in his self-help book, How To Think More About Sex (about which more below) — but he tends to meander and summarize after a quotation rather than using it to drive his own argument forward.
…And de Botton’s book makes an enraging little study (all the books clock in at around 200 pages) of contemporary assumptions about sex, marriage, and relationships, regarded strictly from the point of view of a bored, married, middle-aged man who maybe dabbles in philosophy and fancies himself an intellectual. It’s like being hit on by a paunchy, balding European guy at an office party who tries to seduce you with, well, quotes from Jane Austen and Stendhal, and empty proclamations about the place of sex, marriage, and relationships in contemporary society.
Oh-ho, I see what she did there. It’s clever, see, because that’s de Botton she’s describing there! De Botton’s book is like de Botton himself in person being all lame and socially striving and stuff! Burn!
To reiterate, my own opinions of his work vary significantly. But I am beginning to admire the knack he has for provoking pretentious twats into displaying their honest contempt for their social inferiors.