Timely and profound meditations on how great figures in history, literature, music, and art searched for solace while facing tragedies and crises, from the internationally renowned historian of ideas and Booker Prize finalist 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.
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
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
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