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.
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