'The Architecture of Happiness'
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
There is news out of New York City this afternoon. A small aircraft crashed into a high-rise apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at 72nd Street and York Avenue. It's triggered a fire and startled passersby.
Fire Department spokesman Emily Rahimi said an aircraft struck the 20th floor of the building. Witnesses said the crash caused a loud noise. Burning and falling debris was seen. Flames are shooting out of the windows. There is no indication as of yet that terrorism was involved. No word as yet on casualties. Stay tuned to NPR News for further updates on this during this program and later in the day.
Author and philosopher Alain de Botton has written about big thinkers, big ideas and about some of the giants of literature. In his latest book, he reveals his own ambitions to think large, this time about design and architecture and what he calls an aesthetic revolution. He describes why style, a beautiful house or exquisitely designed teacup, can bring such joy and why a gloomy hotel room can make us question the meaning of life.
In a collection of essays he challenges us to take a look at our surroundings to see how they shape us and how we shape them. Does a home filled with dolls and teddy bears, he wonders, reflect a wish to escape from a harsh and cruel world? Can a love of white, spare and minimal spaces be an attempt to fight a sense of chaos and disorder? He questions the notion that aesthetic issues are shallow and argues that if we look a little deeper, our furniture, our houses, and our public buildings will speak to us in distinct personalities.
Later on in the program we'll address the controversy over a new report on civilian deaths in Iraq. But first, The Architecture of Happiness.
Has the majestic arch of a building ever made your mood soar? What does a couple's argument over the style of a couch say about their relationship? Is the style of a house or a building largely superficial or can it serve as a guardian of ones identity? Join the conversation. Our number in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
Alain de Botton's latest book is The Architecture of Happiness. We speak to him today from the CBC Studios in Toronto, Canada. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.
Mr. ALAIN DE BOTTON (Philosopher and Author, The Architecture of Happiness): Hi, thanks for having me.
CONAN: And it's interesting. One of the first things you address in your book is some suspicions, some doubts about the nature of architecture and its ability to change our world. You question its seriousness and its moral worth.
Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right. I mean I think anyone who really likes art in general, but architecture more specifically, comes up very quickly against some uncomfortable sort of insights and truths. One of the people with one of the nicest houses in all of 20th century Europe was Hermann Goering. He ransacked Europe looking for beautiful pieces of art and furniture and built this really sumptuous house. And it didn't do him much good.
I think somewhere at the back of our minds there's an assumption that investing in good art and design and creating a beautiful series of spaces will in some way improve us, will sort of make us better. But the example of Goering's house quickly shows us that I think that works of architecture do have kind of moral messages, you could say, but they're not laws. They're not legally binding. They can't force you to be nice. They can only suggest that you be so.
CONAN: And I think you quote - was it John Ruskin(ph) as saying - he's in the great, beautiful city of Venice and said, well, it doesn't seem to make the people here much happier than anybody else.
Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right. Having spent about 15 years of his life studying the glories of Venice, in a moment of kind of depressive lucidity he was forced to acknowledge that many Venetians were not cheered up on a daily basis by their surroundings. That's not to say that architecture doesn't matter. It's just one has to acknowledge some of the hurdles in the way.
CONAN: And it is a fundamentally ephemeral art.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Yes, I mean this is something that - you know, the 19th century offered us that lovely word the effete, somebody who cares in a way too much about architecture and beauty. The most famous effete of the 19th century was of course Oscar Wilde, who famously said that the wrong kind of wallpaper could upset him far worse than a death in the family. And there is a way in which a love of architecture can push aside concerns for other things.
I mean, I often feel this because I live with somebody who's completely uninterested in questions of art and design. He's 22 months old. He's my son Samuel. And despite long speeches to him, he loves to destroy the furniture, write on the walls. I care a lot about him, but he doesn't care about the surroundings.
And I think, you know, that anyone who's manifest a strong interest in beautiful places quickly has to weigh that desire and that interest up against competing claims, including those of family life.
CONAN: One of the most interesting passages I thought in your book: We may need to have made an indelible mark on our lives, to have married the wrong person, pursued an unfulfilling career into middle age or lost a loved one before architecture can begin to have any perceptible impact on us. But when we speak of being moved by a building, we allude to a bittersweet feeling of contrast between the noble qualities written into a structure and the sadder, wider reality within which we know them to exist.
Maybe your son hasn't married the wrong woman yet.
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Mr. DE BOTTON: Yes, I mean there is an odd way in which - I don't know, when I was younger, I was extremely indifferent to things like sunsets, flowers, you know, beautiful walls, a beautiful room, et cetera. And it's only as, you know, I've aged and problems have come along that haven't necessarily been easy to solve, et cetera, that I've begun to appreciate those moments in life. And they're not moments that last forever; they are literally moments when you see something beautiful, something attractive, when something is nice. You come to live more in the moment.
And I think the beautiful things are things of the moment. You know, you're passing through a room. You happen to appreciate the way the wooden floorboards are arranged or something. So I think that there's - in a way, people who put their faith in architecture have to remember that it's not a faith akin to, I don't know, trying to restart the world anew or create a revolution or something. It's a modest ambition, a very, very important ambition, but a modest one.
And I think many, especially younger people who are studying architecture, sometimes want to remake the world through architecture. And I think, you know, to some extent you can, but you have to be modest about it as well. Because sometimes, you know, you can be in the most beautiful building in the world, but if you've got a headache that headache will wipe out any advantage that the building might have been able to provide.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in this conversation. Our number: 800-989-8255. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. And Pat joins us on the line from Buffalo in New York.
PAT (Caller): Hi, I just wanted to talk about some churches, especially one in particular - Our Lady of Victory in Lackawanna, New York, right outside of the city of Buffalo. And, you know, it's kind of all the artwork and just when you walk in it kind of has the spiritual sort of uplifting effect on you, you know, not only the architecture itself but a lot of the artwork inside.
And I just wanted to comment on how, you know, coupled with being there for mass, it just kind of has a surreal, almost spiritual feeling and effect on -and I think that building has affected me more than any other, you know, building I've stepped in before.
Mr. DE BOTTON: I think that's fascinating. I think that churches and religious buildings generally teach us a lot about architecture. They really teach us a very basic lesson, which is we don't think the same way wherever we are, that there are certain buildings that put us in certain frames of mind.
You know, a well decorated, a beautiful church will put us into a mindset where we're more receptive to dwelling on certain issues. And, you know, a supermarket will direct our thoughts in other ways. And that's why religions have, perhaps more than any other entity, been very aware of the power of architecture. Because we're not the same people wherever we are. And if we get the buildings right, we'll end up, according to certain religions, we'll end up being the sort of people that these religions want us to be.
CONAN: Can you describe that building for us a little bit, Pat? Is it one of those gothic structures with sweeping curves that lead your eyes upward?
PAT: Yeah, it's a very gothic basilica built around, you know, the turn of the century. And it's got a huge dome and arches. And it's got a, you know, a lot of angel statues on the inside and on the outside. It's very intricate and, you know, very sophisticated.
PAT: Father Baker, who's trying to get into sainthood early, his advocates are, it was his dream and it finally came to reality. And it's been kind of a focal point of, you know, the religious in this area. There's a lot of Catholics in the city of Buffalo and Buffalo area, so (unintelligible).
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call, Pat, and enjoy your next visit.
PAT: I will, thanks.
CONAN: Bye-bye. It's interesting. He's talking about a gothic building, and you write a lot in the early part of your book about how there was once a consensus amongst architects on what we describe - how we define a beautiful building. A consensus that collapsed.
Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right. I mean if you look at architecture all over the West, you know, right from, I don't know, San Francisco to St. Petersburg, there was a consensus for hundreds of years that a beautiful building, especially a courthouse or an important building, should be a classical building. You know, classical buildings still around in an awful lot of places.
But that consensus starts to break down in the 19th century and then on into the 20th. And suddenly a lot of different styles come about: the gothic style, the Jacobean style, the Islamic style. Suddenly you get a new choice in architecture.
And whereas choice is a wonderful thing in many areas of life, when it comes to architecture, if you have a city or a town where all the buildings look different, they all seem like they're in a way having an argument among themselves. That can be very disorienting and confusing. And among many architects for really a hundred years or so, there's been a search to try and find some style which would win everyone over so that we wouldn't have chaos in our cities, and that search is ongoing.
CONAN: You point, for example, to the city of Bath in England which is beautifully designed, unifiedly designed, and presents an incredible impression when you come upon it that was not built at much greater expense or much greater trouble than a lot of places which are considerably less distinguished.
Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right, and what's nice about a city like Bath is that every street is more or less the same. I mean there are some wonderful kind of showpiece avenues, but on the whole it's just a repetition of a basic kind of structure. And some of the nicest cities in the world are really quite simple. You know, it's just the same unit that keeps being repeated.
And part of the problem with contemporary architecture is the belief that the architect is a kind of lone genius whose task it is to produce something utterly different from what's come before. And that's led in many cases to streets which are seriously sort of disconnected and are not giving out a coherent message.
And your point about money is I think very interesting. You know, many people say, well, surely we need a lot of money to create good architecture. You know, if only it were that simple. Anyone who's ever driven along, I don't know, some of the more unfortunate streets in Beverly Hills or in Bishops Avenue in London will realize that a lot of money does not itself guarantee good architecture. Just as anyone who's wondering around certain hill villages in Italy, say, will quickly realize that a modest budget never condemns a building to ugliness either. It's unfortunately about the intelligence of the design.
CONAN: We're talking with Alain de Botton about his latest book, The Architecture of Happiness. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. E-mail us, email@example.com.
We're going to come back after a short break with an update for you on the crash of a small aircraft into an apartment building in New York City, so stay tuned for that. I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We'll get back to our conversation with Alain de Botton in just a moment.
But first, joining us now is NPR's Robert Smith. He's on the telephone with us from the scene of a plane crash, an aircraft crash, in New York City. Robert, what can you tell us?
ROBERT SMITH: Well, right now we see the smoke coming up from what is supposedly a 50-story apartment building here on the very East Side of Manhattan at about 72nd and York Street. And it's a 50-story building and there was an impact of some sort of aircraft - I guess they're saying now a helicopter - around the 20th floor. There were reports of flames coming out, an explosion and debris coming down. But right now it's just a mess here. There's a massive, massive police and fire response. This is the kind of thing that they've been training for since 9/11.
CONAN: We're getting word from the Federal Aviation Administration; it's still too early from their point of view to determine what kind of aircraft was involved or what might have caused this crash. Obviously, though, there's got to be a lot of speculation.
SMITH: Well, there is word from WABC here in New York that the FDNY, the fire department, is confirming that it was a helicopter, although reports, earlier reports, vary between a very small plane and a helicopter going down.
(unintelligible) It's sort of two different issues. A plane crash is pretty rare, obviously, around here. But helicopters, recently over the last year, they've had a number of different problems, them dumping into the East River. One, a tourist helicopter about a year ago, and then there was a business helicopter that crashed not too long ago. Now those were minor events and those happened into the water off Manhattan. But it's sort of good to know that - at least informative to know that these things happened before.
CONAN: Any word on injuries?
SMITH: Not yet. I mean there's just an amazing emergency response. Now I see at least 20 ambulances, maybe 30 or 40 fire department vehicles, police vehicles packed with officers. You know, they're taking no chances around here, but no word yet on who might have been injured or what might have happened.
I mean, we do know it was a residential building. There are some business parts of the building that are on the lower floors. And it looks like initially from some of the helicopter shots, who have a better view of this than I do, that it was probably five or six apartments, or six units I should say, that looked like they were affected by smoke and fire.
CONAN: It looked like flames were gushing out at one point of two apartment buildings, one - two apartments, one on top of the other. And it did look - again, I'm watching this on television from a couple of hundred miles away - it did look as if you could see the hoses of firemen dousing the flames.
You now see continued smoke gushing out of the buildings and obviously staining the building. And certainly other apartments in that building might have been involved. But - and, again, there's no word yet from NPR's Robert Smith on casualties. And all the indications we have thus far is no indication that any kind of terrorism is involved in this incident.
Robert Smith, thanks very much for being with us.
SMITH: You're welcome, Neal.
CONAN: Robert Smith with us from the scene, 72nd Street and York Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City, where an aircraft has crashed into the middle of a high-rise residential apartment building in Manhattan. We'll have more for you later in this program, and stay tuned to NPR News throughout the day. We'll have the latest for you.
But let's get back to our conversation with Alain de Botton about his new book, The Architecture of Happiness. And, Alain de Botton, I realize it's disconcerting to be talking about damage to a high-rise apartment building in New York City and the philosophical principles of architecture, but it is an important point. We were discussing before the break the idea of money, and you say we don't have to put up with mediocrity anymore.
Mr. DE BOTTON: No, that's right. I mean I think that some of the problem is that in our education system we get taught a lot about literature, we get taught a lot about pictures, about art. What we don't ever get taught about is architecture, even though it's the art form - of all the art forms, it's the one that has the greatest influences on us. It's the one that costs the most, and it's the one that really colors our lives. And it sticks around for a very, very long time.
So I think it's very important for people to, as it were, educate themselves in architecture so that we'll be less at the behest of property developers who come along and, as it were, abuse our ignorance of architecture by saying, well, you know, no one really knows what's beautiful and what's ugly so, you know, here's a condominium block and, you know, I'm sure you'll like if you looked at it in the right way.
So we're very at the mercy of people telling us what's good and what's bad and often don't trust our own judgments, whereas people's ordinary judgment is often much closer to the mark.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Elizabeth. Elizabeth calling us from Provo, Utah.
ELIZABETH (Caller): Hi.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Hi.
ELIZABETH: I was calling because I really kind of agree a little bit with what you just said about how a lot of commercial architects will just make something and, you know, if it's good enough to live there, people will live there. And right now I'm looking for my first apartment with my husband. And just looking at some of the apartments, some of the ones you can tell they were built in a certain time - like they're a couple of decades old and they're kind of rundown and they're not very attractive. They're very, very blockish, I guess.
And then some of the other ones have a more classical style, the kind of things you would see on a movie or on TV where like a happy family would live, and they almost look like little homes. I mean those are the places that I want to live because they give me a good feeling just looking at the architecture, you know. Like this is where I want to live. We're going to have a happy family.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Yes, I mean I think the desire for people to have that quality of homeliness is really, really important. And, you know, it's not something that ever gets taught in architecture school. Architects don't get taught to create homely feelings. Unfortunately, what that's done is that it makes generations of people always look towards old buildings as the sort of places they want to live in. They don't want to live in them because they're old. They want to live in them because older architects, older schools of architecture were much better off than more modern ones at capturing the feelings of homeliness.
I mean, my own personal hope is that actually contemporary architects can do good, nice feelings of domesticity just as well as their predecessors could. They just have to be given a proper chance. So, you know, I don't believe in necessarily always building in a nostalgic way. And sometimes buildings are as absurd as people who, let's say, love the past and decide to walk around with a wig and garters and speak in Shakespearean English. That's not a good response to loving the past. And I don't think we should always live in houses that are modern but look like they might have been built 200 years ago. But I think if the houses are to be modern, they should also remember some of those lessons from the past.
CONAN: Elizabeth, thanks very much...
CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cut you off. Go ahead.
ELIZABETH: No, it's okay. I also had another question. Because when you were just talking about the city of Bath and how a lot of the streets - the architecture all looks the same.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Mm-hmm.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Yeah.
ELIZABETH: I mean do you think that sometimes when architecture is repeated in a row, like on a street, is it poor architecture that gives you a bad feeling when you see something like that? Because my family moved to a neighborhood when I was a teenager and the houses were all the same. I mean they all looked exactly the same, and I couldn't stand it.
CONAN: Does the phrase ticky-tacky apply here?
CONAN: Does the phrase ticky-tacky apply here?
ELIZABETH: Kind of. I mean, like they were just all the same, and I just couldn't stand the neighborhood. And I just didn't know if that was because it was poor architecture, because it just didn't give me a sense of comfort.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Yeah. I don't think that buildings being alike on their own will necessarily make it good, but when you have a good design like you do in Bath and like you have in many parts - I mean, many parts of New York City, for example, are very repetitive. It's the same kind of building type just repeated again and again.
And it looks nice because, you know, the building type is good. And I think one of the things we often seek from our architecture is a kind of calming influence. We don't necessarily want every single building to be different, because that's as irritating and as aggravating as, you know, if people are all shouting at the same time. So we're often looking for calm, and repetition can be a good quality.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH. All right. Thank you.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Thank you.
CONAN: You also address issues of public buildings and the way public buildings speak to us. And there's a fascinating example you give in the book, comparing buildings drawn by two different German architects for two different World's Fairs and how they express absolutely clearly the nature of the governments that built them.
Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right. I mean, buildings are extremely - sort of, if you want - eloquent things. They do communicate all sorts of emotions. And whenever architects are asked to design things like embassies - but also kind of parliaments and big civic buildings - they often have to ask themselves, you know, what does my country believe in? What do I want to say about the world through my building?
And if you look at the history of German embassies in the 20th century, it's fascinating. You know, during the Nazi period, you see a building - which even if you take away the Nazi flags, etc., you look at it and you think that is an aggressive building. You just - you feel the aggression coming out of the window frames, the roof, the ceiling moldings - everything about it says aggression.
You look at some of the embassies that were done in the ‘50s by German architects, and it says this is the product of a country that is devoted to democracy and openness and lightness and communication between the inside and the outside. And in a way, you get a kind of moral message. So - and this is true not just of embassies. All buildings, as it were, tell us a story about how their owners see the world.
And when we say that a building is beautiful - when we use that word beautiful - really what we're saying is we kind of like the vision of life that's coming out of a building. So, beauty isn't just a sort of aesthetic word. It's a word about, you know, how we want to live - which is why it sort of inspired me to give my book the title The Architecture of Happiness, because there's a lovely quote from the French writer Stendhal, where he says to think of something as beautiful is to see in it a promise of happiness. So it's all about seeing in beautiful things a promise of a good life.
CONAN: Yet you also write about how at various in the history of architecture, architects gave up the idea of talking about beauty at all.
Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right. Particularly in 20th century, you know, the words like beauty can be easily associated with effeminacy, with aristocracy, with luxury - kind of not the basics of life. And in the 20th century, architects became obsessed with seeming a bit like engineers. They wanted to be like the guys. You know, engineering is a very male-dominated profession. And architects - there's almost, you could say, a sort of gender anxiety among 20th century architects. What they didn't want to be seen as was decorators - interior decorators, traditionally associated with gay men.
So they wanted to be like sort of macho guys putting up bridges, etc. And it meant that they were very against words like pretty and beautiful and sweet. And actually, of course, as ordinary homeowners and buyers and users of architecture, one of the things that we do very often seek from buildings is qualities like prettiness. And my hope for the 21st century is that architects rediscover the idea of prettiness, they rediscover the feminine - rather like many fashion designers have been doing. So it's been an unfairly neglected quality in the 20th century.
CONAN: I have to say, that seems - reading your book - more than a hope. You are calling for an aesthetic revolution.
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Mr. DE BOTTON: That's right. That's right. I'm being British and self-deprecating, but yes, absolutely. I think it would be wonderful if architects learned from some of the best lessons of the past and stop producing cold, clinical boxes which don't please anybody.
CONAN: We're talking with philosopher and author Alain de Botton about his new book The Architecture of Happiness. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, which is coming to you from NPR News.
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Phil. Phil's with us from Fort Myers in Florida.
PHIL (CALLER): Hi. Good afternoon. How are you?
CONAN: Very well. Thanks.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Hi, Phil.
PHIL: Hi. Here I am on the west coast of Florida where we have some of the ugliest buildings decorating the coastline. But I'm also within hours of the major theme parks, some of the major theme parks of the world. And my question is how are they successful at manipulating our mood and attitude as we get off the traffic-ridden interstate and into their parks? And how do they help us feel happy about being there?
Mr. DE BOTTON: Well, I think theme parks are really fascinating because at one level, they are attractive places. Kids love them. Families like them, etc. So clearly, they're doing something right. Nevertheless, there's also a problem. And that problem, if I can use an analogy, it's rather like somebody who makes a good joke but has trouble living in a serious way.
Theme parks are like jokes. And it's nice to hear a joke, but at some point you've got to get back to real life. And, you know, there are some qualities of, you know, Disney World, etc., that we would all like to have in our communities - the peace, the attention to detail, etc. But there is also fantasy element. You feel like real people are not living here. Real people don't have the challenges of ordinary life.
And my hope is that we get away from this terrible dichotomy between on the one hand, lovely theme parks, and on the other hand, complete massive industrial estates and highways, etc. You know, the ideal would be to create an ordinary environment - neither theme park nor industrial park - an ordinary environment where ordinary families can live that is attractive. That surely seems to me to be the challenge.
CONAN: And speaking about some of those houses you were just describing, Phil, Alain de Botton writes in his book, the same kind of banal thinking which in literature produces nothing worse than incoherent books and tedious plays can, when applied to architecture, leaves wounds that will be visible from outer space. Bad architecture, he continues, is frozen mistake writ large.
PHIL: All right, I love it. I just had one follow up piece then. Have you been to Celebration, which is Disney's attempt at community building, and how they use some of the principals of architecture there to create a community people actually live in?
Mr. DE BOTTON: Yes. I mean, I do know that community, and I think it's partially successful. What's wrong with it - and I think many people have attacked it for it - is that it's somehow nostalgic. It's like going to see, you know, your great-grandmother and having cookies with her or something. There's something about it that's disconnected from the challenges of contemporary life.
And so it's like a pleasant dream, and there's something unreal and eerie about it. And I think the best, the really, truly best communities are those that don't try and say the modern world is awful. They try and find things to celebrate in the modern world, and so try and make us at home in the world we actually live in rather than always trying to send us back to a world of our great-grandparents which is no longer with us, and, indeed, perhaps was never that perfect anyway.
PHIL: It's also obsessively controlling there, which is why we don't live there and live far away toward the beach. Thank you very much. I appreciate you taking my call.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Phil. Let's see if we can squeeze Lee in on the line. Lee's joining us from Muskegon, Michigan.
LEE: Hi, your previous subject about interior design was actually a perfect segue, because I was calling to make a connection often between what people choose as careers and this subject. I started out originally as an environmental science major, and then I got pregnant and decided that I couldn't go off saving the world with a baby. And I realized that I hated the house I lived in because I couldn't change anything about it, and it was really frustrating.
So I decided to go into interior design. I went through a whole program on that and came out realizing that was not at all what I wanted to do, because what I wanted to do was to change the outside world that I lived in. And so, I guess I wanted to know your guest's opinion on maybe other architects or people who take their own life experiences with their environment - their interior environment or their architectural environment - and make it into what they want to do with their life.
CONAN: And we'll give him 20 seconds to do it.
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Mr. DE BOTTON: All right. Well I think in North America, we're now all obsessed with our houses, particularly our interiors. But I think a really good community depends not just on having nice individual houses, but on creating a genuinely nice community. You know, what was great about ancient Athens, for example, was that people didn't worry about their individual homes. They wanted to create a beautiful city, which we still celebrate today.
And I think the best cities and communities are those that put a certain amount of their income not just into decorating the front room and the kitchen and the bathroom, but they make sure that the whole community looks beautiful and is its own kind of celebration.
CONAN: And Lee, thanks very much for the call. I'm afraid that's all the time that we've got. Alain de Botton, thank you very much for you time.
Mr. DE BOTTON: Thank you.
CONAN: Alain de Botton's new book, The Architecture of Happiness. And he joined us today from CBC Studios in Toronto, Canada. When we come back from a short break, we'll talk with the lead author of the controversial new report on the number of civilians killed in Iraq. It puts the total well over 600,000. We'll also bring you an update on the plane crash in New York City. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.