Review: Hector and the Search for Happiness – François Lelord

My last review was a book about Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, whose “Essays”, written in the 16th century, have become classics of philosophy.  We all know that the French have far more interest in philosophy than other nations, (just look at the lengthy Wikipedia list of French philosphers), and it is no surprise to discover that French bookshops have many titles on their shelves from the ultra-serious Foucoult and Derrida to the more accessible works such as this amusing little book, Hector and the Search for Happiness, written by psychiatrist, François Lelord.

Whether this book qualifies as “philosophy” or not, I’m not quite sure, but if philosophy isn’t about “the search for happiness”, then what is the point of it anyway?

I enjoyed reading RosyB of Vulpes Libris‘s review of this book. Apparently she gave it to her boyfriend, who never reads books, and he couldn’t put it down.  She enjoyed it herself but felt that while the author allow Hector to have some romantic adventures during his travels, she found herself annoyed by the rather two dimensional female characters.

Anyway, to get to the story – Hector, a young psychiatrist, becomes disillusioned with his profession as he realises that the majority of his patients don’t have much wrong with them other than an inability to be happy.  One of his patients tells him that he looks in need of a holiday and he decides to set off on a journey around the world looking for the keys to happiness.   As he travels he meets many people, and begins to compile a list of 23 lessons which teach him the rules of happiness. Continue reading

Review: How to Live, A Life of Montaigne – Sarah Bakewell

Like many people, I occasionally flirt with philosophy, but usually find it too abstract and inaccessible – unless of course it is set in the context of a life well-lived (or perhaps not so well!), when the personal story of the philosopher helps his teachings come alive.  For this reasons, I enjoyed reading the books of Alain de Botton such as his Consolations of Philosophy, which manages to extract the main thrust of the great philosophers and apply it to modern problems and complexities.

Sarah Bakewell has provided me with another highly accessible book of wisdom in How to Live – A life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.  The added value of her book is that she has extracted the core of Montaigne’s thought but set it in the context of a very readable biography, containing not just the story of his life, but also the historical context in which he lived.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592) had a successful career as a Counselor in the Bordeaux Parliament and in recognition of his services was awarded the highest honour of the French nobility.  However, he tired of public life and at the age of 38 retired to his Chateau to live a life of solitude among the 1500 books in his library, where he began work on his Essays.

Sarah Bakewell has somehow taken the 16th century material of the Essays and has distilled them into a very readable book for the 21st century.  Understanding that few people have the time to wander through the 1000 page original, she had summarised Montaignes messages in 20 chapters, with titles such as:

  • How to Live – Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow witted,
  • How to Live – Survive love and loss
  • How to Live – Wake from the sleep of habit
  • How to Live – Reflect on everything, regret nothing.

Continue reading