Celebrity schadenfreude* involving an author, and a philosopher at that, elevates it far above the midden material of a Britney or TomKat or Christian Bale fracas. The brow clash of Jonathan Franzen (high) and Oprah (lower middle) brought literary skirmishes into new media. (Martin Amis’ The Information moment in ’94 was a newspaper affair – and how old does that make you feel?)

Now we have documentation of the megaselling philosopher-author of The Consolations of Philosophy in discombobulation. So piqued was Alain de Botton by a more or less crushing review of his new book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, in The New York Times that he responded on the reviewer Caleb Crain ‘s own blog thus:

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Caleb, you make it sound on your blog that your review is somehow a sane and fair assessment. In my eyes, and all those who have read it with anything like impartiality, it is a review driven by an almost manic desire to bad-mouth and perversely depreciate anything of value. The accusations you level at me are simply extraordinary. I genuinely hope that you will find yourself on the receiving end of such a daft review some time very soon – so that you can grow up and start to take some responsibility for your work as a reviewer. You have now killed my book in the United States, nothing short of that. So that’s two years of work down the drain in one miserable 900 word review. You present yourself as ‘nice’ in this blog (so much talk about your boyfriend, the dog etc). It’s only fair for your readers (nice people like Joe Linker and trusting souls like PAB) to get a whiff that the truth may be more complex. I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.

And, yes, it was de real Botton. (‘Then the revelation that De Botton had himself hit the Twitterverse to draw attention to the comment thread — before deleting his tweets.’) Oh, that trembling finger on the Send button…

Update: The UK Telegraph reports that de Botton said, ‘It was a private communication to his website, to him as a blogger. It’s appalling that it seems that I’m telling the world.’ De Botton is not a very web 2.0 person, it seems – perhaps he doesn’t spend enough time in the world of work and offices?

But de Botton seems to find it hard to stop while he’s still behind. Now the axis of evil included The New York Times.

Some reviews ‘are just not fair,’ he lamented. ‘The New York Times is in its declining years. They don’t really care, they quite like to cause a storm.’

But he did post a message on Twitter: “i was so wrong, so unself-controlled. Now I am so sorry and ashamed of myself.”

Meanwhile, Caleb Crain has kept mum.

In the UK the book has received mixed reviews. In The Times Naomi Wolf says she was “ready to hurl it across the room” by page 40. By page 95 she was holding her head in misery. ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work shows all too clearly that some projects are simply appallingly matched to their authors. De Botton shines when he is handling pure intellectual history, pure literature or pure theory. But either de Botton himself, in what seems to have been some sudden awkward pressure of social conscience, or an editor who has seen too many reality TV shows, had the ill-considered notion that he should go out into what is very much the real world – the world of electrical pylons and tuna fishing boats and low-income-female focus groups – and do hands-on reporting, which was supposed to lead to meditative exegesis on the meaning of work.’

Too much information: Update 2: DeBotton says he has £7.45 million tucked away, the ‘fruit of 15 years of hard labour selling books which you might find (hilariously) to be utterly “pretentious”, but which clearly other people don’t always find repulsive.’ This was in reply to the author of another article, in The Times. Funny how AdB doesn’t admit he still inherited squillions of €.

PS: the photo of wee AdB is from his website.


*My schadenfreude stems from having been twice given How Proust Can Change Your Life, and finding myself unable to read very far into either copy, being interrupted by my own snoring. Maybe retitle it to: How a Multimillion Heir Managed to Make Proust a Cure for Insomnia. (Btw, quite how someone whose mother, sister and himself inherited hundreds of millions when his father died, and who has never had a dud job in his life can speechify in his new book about being collared into menial white and blues, I don’t know. As P Larkin might unwillingly have phrased it.)

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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