Alain de Botton continues to charm in this exploration of questions related to work.
The book consists of ten chapters, in each of which the author explores a specific job type in depth. The text is augmented throughout with photographs by Richard Baker, about 15 per chapter. These serve as an excellent complement to de Botton's remarks and reinforce one of the book's major strengths, which is Alain de Botton's skill for anchoring his exploration of profound questions pertaining to work (what to do with one's life? how to combine earning money with attaining fulfilment? how to balance career and family obligations?) in intelligently chosen, concrete examples.
A listing of the ten chapters gives an idea of the wide-ranging and eclectic nature of his investigation:
1. Cargo Ship Spotting 2. Logistics (including a photo essay which follows the path of a tuna from its capture in a Maldives fishing boat to the supermarket shelf) 3. Biscuit Manufacture 4. Career Counselling 5. Rocket Science 6. Painting 7. Transmission Engineering 8. Accountancy 9. Entrepeneurship 10. Aviation
The list fails to convey the charm and subtlety of de Botton's writing - to appreciate those, you'll have to read the book yourself. In each chapter there is something to delight - the author's curiosity will make you think about commonplace things in a new way, and his thoughtfulness and erudition make him a charming tour guide. The chapter on "rocket science", centred around a trip to French Guiana to report on the launch of a French-made communications satellite commissioned by a Japanese TV station, is a tour de force of nonfiction writing. But de Botton's particular talent shines through most obviously in those chapters which appear superficially least promising. You think to yourself - how can anyone write about biscuit manufacturing, or accountancy, and be interesting? Then you read the chapters in question, and re-read them, and think - how the hell did he do that?
I found the book riveting. It's certainly among the top five non-fiction books I've read in the past ten years.
Most of what we humans do in the name of "work" will never be recognized, possibly never even be noticed, and will quickly crumble into dust in little less time than it takes us to crumble and die ourselves. One of humanity's greatest achievements is our ability to ignore all this and attempt to achieve things anyway. That sober, even dark message lies at the heart of "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work," a meditation that suggests there are in our vast warehouses or soulless … more
Book Description We spend most of our waking lives at work—in occupations often chosen by our unthinking younger selves. And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our occupations mean to us.
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work is an exploration of the joys and perils of the modern workplace, beautifully evoking what other people wake up to do each day—and night—to make the frenzied contemporary world function. With a philosophical eye and his signature combination of wit and wisdom, Alain de Botton leads us on a journey around a deliberately eclectic range of occupations, from rocket science to biscuit manufacture, accountancy to art—in search of what make jobs either fulfilling or soul-destroying.
Along the way he tries to answer some of the most urgent questions we can ask about work: Why do we do it? What makes it pleasurable? What is its meaning? And why do we daily exhaust not only ourselves but also the planet? Characteristically lucid, witty and inventive, Alain de Botton’s “song for occupations” is a celebration and exploration of an aspect of life which is all too often ignored and a book that shines a revealing light on the essential meaning of work in our lives.
Alain de Botton on The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work