three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-The Architecture of HappinessWith lavish words and illustrations, Alain de Botton takes the reader on a tour of the world’s architecture, past and present, and discusses the ways that each structure may satisfy (or fail to satisfy) the needs of the people who use it. Buildings are highly personal and embody social values, he explains. Each is judged on its balance, elegance, coherence, and what de Botton calls "self-knowledge," all of which must be in harmony for the result to be appealing and useful. "Buildings speak—and on topics which can be readily discerned," he writes, taking on the task of translating for those who might not be accustomed to listening to homes, restaurants, and skyscrapers.
Pantheon. 280 pages. $25. ISBN: 0375424431

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[The Architecture of Happiness] works on a reader like the tuneup of a piano, realigning the mind and eye to pay attention to our built environments. … [It is] lively, philosophical and joyful." Karen Long

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"De Botton, with his fresh eye and common sense, goes a long way here toward identifying the components of architectural design that might make this world a healthier and more harmonious dwelling place." Michael Upchurch

Houston Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"De Botton sweetens his lessons in architectural history and philosophy with lots of jokes and chaste black-and-white photos. … You occasionally wish that bookish, reserved de Botton would cut loose with a little James Howard Kunstler-style invective." Lisa Gray

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"[De Botton] offers us, in effect, a handsome photo album printed on coated stock, augmented by thoughtful, highly polished paragraphs and pensées." Michael Dirda

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"De Botton is high falutin’ but user friendly—his trick, á la Oprah, is to throw in a feel-good twist, though his relentless geniality gets to be a bit much." Matthew Price

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Mr. de Botton offers a linked series of meditations and wispy aperçus. He swaddles banal observations in inspirational greeting-card prose. He moons. He spins intellectual cotton candy. … When he is not delivering sententious commonplaces or indulging in heavy whimsy, he makes an agreeable guide." William Grimes

Critical Summary

Alain De Botton, author of How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, and Status Anxiety, among other books, takes a humanistic approach in Architecture of Happiness and explores the ways in which our built environment affects us. He occasionally overindulges in florid prose, but critics agree that his more general observations of architecture are sound and interesting, if not entirely novel. The average reader will find much of interest in the broad range of eras, places, and styles that de Botton discusses. Well-placed photographs illustrate each point in the text. The book is so visual, in fact, that the BBC is making a three-part television series based on it, to air on PBS this fall.