Virtual Event: Michael Ignatieff


On Consolation:
Finding Solace in Dark Times

in conversation with ARTHUR ISAK APPLBAUM


November 9, 2021
5:00 PM ET


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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University welcome MICHAEL IGNATIEFF—the author of Scar Tissue, Fire and Ashes, and The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World—for a discussion of his latest book, On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times. He will be joined in conversation by ARTHUR ISAK APPLBAUM, the Adams Professor of Democratic Values at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and author of Legitimacy: The Right to Rule in a Wanton World.

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About On Consolation

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 lapidary meditations on writers, artists, musicians, and their works—from the books of Job and Psalms to Albert Camus, Anna Akhmatova, and Primo Levi—esteemed 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 our precarious twenty-first century.

Praise for On Consolation

“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

"It is at once illuminating, moving and itself consoling, to follow Michael Ignatieff as he searches for moments of consolation across the centuries. More often than not, he finds these moments not where one would most expect them but in surprising places―in the failure of Cicero’s stoicism; in Marcus Aurelius’ sleepless nights, in Boethius’ odd flash of bleak comedy, in the illusory dreams of Karl and Jenny Marx. And with resolute honesty Ignatieff follows the search into his own inner life, grappling, as we all must do, with failure, loss, and death." —Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

"A wonderful balance of literary survey and personal reflection, this book is wide-ranging, moving, and stylishly written. It makes the perfect introduction to a genre that never goes out of fashion." —Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live and At the Existentialist Café

Arthur Isak Applbaum
Arthur Isak Applbaum

Arthur Isak Applbaum

Arthur Isak Applbaum is Adams Professor of Democratic Values and chair of the Democracy, Politics, and Institutions area at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of Legitimacy: The Right to Rule in a Wanton World (Harvard University Press) and Ethics for Adversaries: The Morality of Roles in Public and Professional Life (Princeton University Press). His work on political legitimacy, civil and official disobedience, and role morality has appeared in journals such as Philosophy & Public Affairs, Journal of the American Medical Association, Harvard Law Review, Ethics, and Legal Theory. He was Acting Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, where he currently directs the undergraduate fellowships in ethics.

Michael Ignatieff
Michael Ignatieff

Michael Ignatieff

Michael Ignatieff is the author of Isaiah Berlin and The Warrior’s Honor, as well as over fifteen other acclaimed books, including a memoir, The Russian Album, and the Booker finalist novel Scar Tissue. He writes regularly for the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. Former head of Canada’s Liberal Party, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and president of Central European University, he is currently a professor at CEU in Vienna.

Photo Credit: Paul Musso

Join our online event (or pre-register) via the link in the event description.
Event Series: Ethics in Your World

The “Ethics in Your World” series, presented with Harvard University’s Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics, features leading thinkers taking on tough problems that matter to us all. Learn more about the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics at

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