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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.