The new book The Art of Travel by Swiss writer Alain de Botton is an inspiring carnet de voyages, that has little in common with a regular travel guide. In five chapters he connects people to places, philosophizing on the act of travel.
Botton sketches a fascinating and concise portrait of Alexander von Humboldt, an inspiring and unstoppable explorer in the classical sense of the word. Every subject is treated in a relatively compact way, and opens new horizons on very diverse people and places throughout history, just like should be the objective of any dedicated traveller (as opposed to all tourists sin cogitatio). I like the way De Botton zaps from philosophy to daily life, while entertaining us with his own experiences in remote and obscure places like Amsterdam and Barbados. But I sometimes get annoyed by his ‘ennui’. For exemple, he is a little afraid to go out eating alone in a restaurant in Madrid, and the next day he has troubles getting out of bed, something which I find very strange, since Madrid is probably my favourite city.
The illustrations are a little dull, all of them in black and white, and all the photos are taken by the author. De Botton is a better writer than photographer, but his book is an entertaining and educating travel companion.