He may seem gentle (big, sad eyes) and kind (the numerous trendy holiday homes he pays trendy architects to design for his Living Architecture programme) …
But Alain de Botton, despite inherited family fortunes and a successful career as a writer and broadcaster, is known also to be a rather angry, young(-ish) man.
Famously, in 2009, in response to a poor review of his book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work in the New York Times, he tracked down the reviewer’s blog and wrote: ‘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.’
You may sympathise with de Botton, an honorary RIBA fellow, if you’ve ever had work rudely dissected in public view, yet more trouble is brewing for him. His latest book, Religion for Atheists is drawing unfavourable reviews from heavyweights such as John Carey (‘fatally unimaginative’) and Terry Eagleton (‘strikingly unoriginal’).
The book proposes a secular church – a restaurant called Agape, (the Greek word for love) where families and couples are seated apart so as to encourage engagement with strangers.
Those flung together then choose topics to discuss from a menu, such as ‘What is your greatest fear?’ and ‘Whom can you not forgive?’ Somehow, de Botton argues, this will make us better people and society will begin to heal.
‘Can he be serious?’ asks Carey in his Sunday Times review. And so does this column after hearing friends of Astragal were barred entry to their favourite restaurant because de Botton and friends were in town. ‘Oh, you look very nice, but this party is private,’ a guest said, seemingly unaware she was undermining the fundamental religious concept of the Agape restaurant that de Botton wants you to buy. Surely this time, he will only be angry with himself.