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On Consolation

Finding Solace in Dark Times

Michael Ignatieff



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31 August 2021
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.
Imprint:   Picador
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 154mm,  Spine: 23mm
Weight:   374g
ISBN:   9781529053784
ISBN 10:   1529053781
Pages:   304
Publication Date:  
Recommended Age:   From 18 years
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Michael Ignatieff is a writer, historian and former politician. He has taught at Cambridge, Oxford, the University of Toronto and Harvard and is currently university professor at Central European University in Vienna. His books, which have been translated into twelve languages, include Blood and Belonging, Isaiah Berlin: a life, The Needs of Strangers, The Russian Album and The Ordinary Virtues.

Reviews for On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times

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 <i>The Places in Between</i> 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 <i>The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity</i> 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 <i>How to Live</i> and <i>At the Existentialist Cafe</i> 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 <i>Everyday Madness: On Grief, Anger, Loss and Love</i> 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 - appeals to us all, as a universal quest and an intimate personal testament. -- Jenny Uglow, author of <i>Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense</i> 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 <i>The Swerve: How the World Became Modern</i> 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 <i>The Inner Life of Empires</i> 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 <i>Kaddish</i> A passionate, thought-provoking, unpredictable book. -- Carlo Ginzburg, author of <i>Threads and Traces</i> 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 <i>The Reckless Mind</i>

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