As read on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’, a timely, moving and profound exploration of how writers, composers and artists have searched for solace while facing loss, tragedy and crisis, from the historian and Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Michael Ignatieff.
‘This erudite and heartfelt survey reminds us that the need for consolation is timeless, as are the inspiring words and examples of those who walked this path before us.’ Toronto Star
When we lose someone we love, when we suffer loss or defeat, when catastrophe strikes – war, famine, pandemic – we go in search of consolation. Once the province of priests and philosophers, the language of consolation has largely vanished from our modern vocabulary, and the places where it was offered, houses of religion, are often empty. Rejecting the solace of ancient religious texts, humanity since the sixteenth century has increasingly placed its faith in science, ideology, and the therapeutic.
How do we console each other and ourselves in an age of unbelief? In a series of portraits of writers, artists, and musicians searching for consolation – from the books of Job and Psalms to Albert Camus, Anna Akhmatova, and Primo Levi – writer and historian Michael Ignatieff shows how men and women in extremity have looked to each other across time to recover hope and resilience. Recreating the moments when great figures found the courage to confront their fate and the determination to continue unafraid, On Consolation takes those stories into the present, movingly contending that we can revive these traditions of consolation to meet the anguish and uncertainties of the twenty-first century.
Illuminating and moving, these wide-ranging portraits of men and women seeking answers in dark times - from the Book of Job to Montaigne, from Cicero to Akhmatova, and on to today's palliative care - appeal to us all, as a universal quest and an intimate personal testament. -- Jenny Uglow, author of Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense An extraordinary meditation on loss and mortality - drawing on all of Michael Ignatieff's powers as a philosopher, a historian, a politician and a man. His portraits of figures such as Hume and Montaigne are sharp and dignified, troubling and consoling, thoughtful and deeply humane. -- Rory Stewart, author of The Places in Between Reading this book is like taking a walk along a winding path with a dear friend and sharing life's travails. But the friend keeps metamorphosing - into Montaigne or Marx or Mahler, Anna Akhmatova or Albert Camus. At the end, you feel enlivened, fortified, and somehow just a little wiser. This is a bold, brilliant, and yes, moving book. -- Lisa Appignanesi, author of Everyday Madness: On Grief, Anger, Loss and Love In an age when we are so much in need of solace, Michael Ignatieff went looking for it in texts and times whose assumptions are profoundly different from our own. The result is a secular reinterpretation of a landscape that has often seemed visible only through a religious lens: it is elegant, humane and intensely rewarding. -- Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity It is at once illuminating, moving and consoling, to follow Michael Ignatieff as he searches for moments of consolation across the centuries. With resolute honesty Ignatieff follows the search into his own inner life, grappling, as we all must do, with failure, loss, and death. -- Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern This is an extraordinarily moving book. The idea of solidarity in time is itelf consoling, amidst so much loss: in Ignatieff's words, "we are not alone, and we never have been". -- Emma Rothschild, author of The Inner Life of Empires A wonderful balance of literary survey and personal reflection, this book is wide-ranging, moving, and stylishly written. It makes the perfect introduction to a genre that never goes out of fashion. -- Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live and At the Existentialist Cafe A passionate, thought-provoking, unpredictable book. -- Carlo Ginzburg, author of Threads and Traces On Consolation is splendidly immune to the panics of our age. Written with eloquence in an affecting spirit of humility by a man of uncommon intelligence, for many of its readers this book will be-is there any higher praise for a study of this subject?-useful." -- Leon Wieseltier, author of Kaddish Human problems are like crystals: they have so many faces that they must be turned over and around many times in order to see every side. Michael Ignatieff's ruminative On Consolation does that artfully. Reading his memorable portraits of historical figures who needed, sought, lost, or found consolation leaves the reader with a deeper appreciation of the profound challenges and possibilities that life lays before every one of us. -- Mark Lilla, author of The Reckless Mind An inspiration for those in need of words to carry on with life. * Kirkus *
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