New Undergraduate Student Reading 2010-2011

This year’s required reading selection is Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy.  All students who attend one of NYU Steinhardt’s undergraduate orientation programs will receive a copy of the summer reading compliments of NYU Steinhardt’s Office of Alumni Relations.  For further information please read our overview and introduction to our New Student Seminar reading below:


The New Student Seminar (E03.0001) is a required course for all new students enrolled in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The seminar is your bridge to college life and will help you become familiar with the University, the Steinhardt School, and your program of study. You will also begin exploring your role as a new college student against the backdrop of this year’s new student theme and new student reading.


Through anecdotes, stories, and pictures, de Botton traces the journeys and challenges that six philosophers faced in their time. The author uses the wisdom of Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to illuminate universal problems, among them, unpopularity, poverty, frustration, love-sickness, inadequacy, and generalized suffering. De Botton’s book is a guide to wisdom, and shows us the practical utility of philosophy to help us through everyday human dilemmas.


As a new student, you face challenges and dilemmas of your own. You spent many years of your adolescence forging your identity, and likely will spend your college years solidifying that identity and learning how to live in the world. Your experiences, the community you grew up in, your family’s values, and certain significant voices (parents, teachers, friends, as well as writers, musicians, and artists that you admire) have shaped your ideas about life and helped you by offering wisdom in uncertain times.

Certainly the six philosophers in de Botton’s book did not know that their words, their ways of looking at the world, dealing with their own dilemmas, issues, and challenges would reach across time to contemporary generations. But here they are, at your doorstep. Their voices add another layer of insight, a different way of understanding experience that can have value for you, the new college student who stands at the crossroads of adulthood.


Socrates famously said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ He wanted his students to challenge conventional accepted beliefs and think for themselves. As you read the six chapters of The Consolations of Philosophy, examine your life. Consider your life beyond the simple details of the day and look for deeper meaning. Can you find meaning in the difficulties and frustrations of your life? Write a journal entry for each chapter and consider how you can use the philosophy under discussion in your own life. Is the voice of de Botton’s chosen philosophers of value? If not, think about what line of poetry, lyric, writer might offer you wisdom and enhance your understanding.


In early fall, we will meet together with Steinhardt Dean Mary Brabeck and a special guest for the New Student Convocation, a culminating discussion on “The Consolations of Philosophy

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