Sunday, 20 May 2012

The School of Life comes to Bristol

On Thursday evening, as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas, four of the authors from the School of Life led an inspiring evening of leading thought at Bristol’s Arnolfini.

The School of Life is dedicated to exploring life’s big questions, and invites contemporary thinkers to help unravel ideas of work, sanity, money, change, technology and sex (among others) to try and make life just a bit more manageable to everyday folk. However, taking on board that the self-help genre is largely left wide open to ridicule, the School of Life takes the concept in a new direction.

Published by Macmillan, the six current School of Life titles hit shelves on May 10 (priced £7.99 each), and the series is edited by philosopher Alain de Botton. Four of the authors came to Arnolfini to speak about their individual subjects: psychotherapist Philippa Perry about sanity; writer Tom Chatfield about digital culture; Bristolian-born broadcaster John-Paul Flintoff about changing the world; and founding School of Life member Roman Krznaric about work.

Each had 30 minutes in which they led a slick presentation structured around five sharp concepts relevant to their topic. And this was a tidy operation. The School of Life has no place for mismatched Powerpoint slides, or untidy fonts… everything about the evening implied pride in their work, and confidence about what they were doing. Which is exactly what you’d want from the authors of a self-help series, but not always what you get with some other series.

It was impossible to leave the evening without taking away a few ideas for my own self-improvement, or making my own life that bit easier. For instance, I shall try to follow Tom Chatfield’s suggestion of turning my iPhone to flight mode for an hour a day, to facilitate a productive, interruption-free hour where my mind can actually concentrate on just one thing. And at least once a week I shall try to follow Philippa Perry’s suggestion of doing a thought audit meditation – this is also described in the ‘exercises’ section of her book if you’re interested in finding out more.

In short, this was a really positive and inspiring evening that definitely turns the self-help genre on its head and shows this isn’t necessarily a market aimed at so-say sad singletons, but at absolutely anyone who finds modern life a bit too much sometimes. Which is surely everyone?!


  1. It looked like a really good talk, thanks for the run down. Have you got Philipa Perry's book? Would you recommend it?

  2. Hi Bethany. Yes, I've read Philippa's book and it's fantastic. Hugely recommended x