On Love is a bestselling psychological, philosophical and a very personal account of modern relationship that may ring familiar in most of the readers’ internal narratives. I love it! 

With an almost microscopic analytic view Alain de Botton weaves with a surgical precision a typical evolution of a love story towards one of the conclusions that “love taught the analytic mind a certain humility”.

More, On Love is a rare marriage of a writing talent enhanced by the author’s scientific savvy. In such, the book recalls the narrative style of another popular author and social psychology fan Malcolm Gladwell. The emotional theme is coupled with science as in Anatomy of Love by Helen Fisher, PhD, but less stern and more inclusive of the data in a smooth-flowing prose.

On Love book by Alain de Botton

As a debut novel written with the talented pen of the classically educated de Botton, On Love blooms in his irony, the teachings of philosophy and psychology. Such as the analysis of the self (‘I – Confirmation’), ‘Psycho-Fatalism’, the blind naivety towards suffering and betrayal through the ‘Jesus Complex’, the concept of beauty, intimacy, idealisation of the loved object, the bias of romantic fatalism (destiny and chance brought us together) and the vanity of romantic terrorism. I cannot agree more, “once a partner has began to loose interest, there is apparently little the other can do to arrest the process”.

The fatal wounds of some arguments are dashed when “delays in explanations give grievances a weight that they would lack if the matter is addressed as soon as it has arisen.” Yes, we do this, perhaps unconsciously.

Why do we suffer from the “Fear of Happiness” aka anhedonia?

De Botton pulls a direct answer touching on the acceptance of living in the present. Describing his life as the process of “anticipation in the morning, anxiety in the actuality, and pleasant memories in the evening”.

We are irrational in our emotional behaviour, intuition and some thinking, but we cannot avoid that in order to preserve our humanness. The Stoics would deny love to themselves and like hermits close their minds to limit them to their self-observation and to the rational deductions of other human affairs, such as a friendship based on an intellectual hedonism (happiness). Love for the Stoics was a distraction from more honourable deeds such as philosophy, governance and education. De Botton is critical of this Stoic view by ushering us into the theme of love between each other. Let it be it irrational. “Do we not sometimes fall in love in order to escape the debilitating cynicism to which we are prone?”

As much as this is a novel, impressive factual resources are pinned in the text. The concept of equal sharing in Marxism enters his love story, so does the dilemma of a person in a certain relationship: the incompatibility of an immature love with liberalism.

Love is as much about:



unequal relationship

as it is about the butterflies in the stomach.

I was captured by the little book’s red cover at an airport on my way to London, where the story is also set. As most humans, the “nature of love” puzzles me. It comes and it goes. I am talking about the immature love, its foolishness, that is explored by the author. As opposing to a mature, grounded and long lasting love, strongly based on the pillar of friendship, empathy and wisdom, the up and downs of the immature love are as exciting as a ride on a rollercoaster. You go up in elation and down in fear.

The pain, desire and cruelty of an unequal relationship emerge from the story between the narrator, an architect working in London, and a self-deprecating Chloe. For Londoners some stages of their love story may ring familiar, rendering the reading smoothly. The city love is often cruel.

Contemporary romance is challenged by multiple hurdles. Dating starts on the planes, while traveling, is carried through the work place to our city apartments, that we rarely are willing to share with an intruder. Alain de Botton’s novel peaks in a betrayal. Being cheated on with a better achieving work colleague blitzed in a catastrophe, even thoughts of a suicide, …

and then he meets Rachel.

Love Lessons close the book with an optimistic entrée into the author’s more recent book on mature love. On Love illustrates through its story the greatest paradoxes of love. The book won’t answer why we fell in love so easily, although some cues to the puzzle emerge throughout – perhaps it is inherent in the irrationality of love, the fire of emotions that burns so intensely that we cannot use the reason to get the riddle of love solved.

As in Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women, the length of each chapter is condensed so the reader does not get a chance to become bored of the little red book. You will be drawn back to finishing On Love, eagerly devouring each page with an involved interest, while inserting your own ideals and doubts about love.

The realism-cum-irony employing story amuses, but also sketches through the originally paired words and drawings of some models of beauty. Handpicked quotes by the well-read author highlight his popular theme.

On beauty:

“Proust once said, classically beautiful women should be left to men without imagination.”

What a relief for all the normal and the far from physically perfect women!