The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

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3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  2,464 ratings  ·  350 reviews
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 fre...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published June 2nd 2009 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2008)
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Esteban del Mal
A desultory meditation, by turns erudite and sardonic. De Botton uses the examples of ten occupations as entry points into associative digressions, but he never gives the workers themselves any voice. While this oversight limits the scope of what he can accomplish in a work that he himself commends to his readers as "reportage," the altar of self-conscious melancholy whereupon the Other is sacrificed proves worthy of contemplation.

And now, a digression of my own.

De Botton notes that he gave a l...more
David
Damn! This book just confirms my desire to have Alain de Botton as a friend. What a smart, erudite, witty, unassuming mensch this guy is. With a quirky curiosity that helps him take an interesting perspective on almost any subject he tackles. His previous books shows his willingness to take on quite a variety of topics. but, of all his books that I've read thus far, the subject of work seems particularly well-suited to his particular (and prodigious) talent.

The book consists of ten chapters, in...more
Kelly
De Botton applies his self-consciously philosophical style to exploring the how and why of a cross-section of professions across the Western world. Relying upon a mix of happenstance encounters and his own personal agenda , de Botton pursues his stated quest to attempt to create:

"a hymn to the intelligence, peculiarity, beauty and horror of the modern workplace, and not, least, its extraordinary claim to be able to provide us with, alongside love, the principal source of life's meaning."

The book...more
Keely
Aug 21, 2013 Keely marked it as to-avoid
In July of 2009, Caleb Crain gave this book a negative review in The New York Times. Though the review is well-written and specific, it is not, on its own, enough to make me reject de Botton outright. The fact that the author then sought out Crain's blog and posted the following comment, however, is quite another matter:
"Caleb, you make it sound on your blog that your review is somehow a sane and fair assessment. In my eyes, and all those who have read it with anything like impartiality, it is
...more
Ken-ichi
I picked this up because I heard the author speak on a couple public radio shows and he seemed interesting. I've also always struggled with the ideas of "work" and "vocation" (i.e. I imagine that if I had the latter, the former wouldn't be so frustrating), so I was actually very excited to read an examination of "the pleasures and sorrows of work." Unfortunately, this book is less an examination and more a set of witty but disorganized notes from a handful of trips to different workplaces. He do...more
Daniel
Having enjoyed a few of Botton's other books, I was keen to pick up his latest. The overarching theme of all of his work is an examination of the values of modern life that often go unquestioned.

It makes sense, then, to focus on work, but this book does not live up to the promise of its title. It is probably his least focused. A more appropriate - but still hubristic - title would be 'The Pleasures and Sorrows of Modern Life'. The business surrounding work receives at least as much attention, if...more
Lazarus P Badpenny Esq
Pressed upon me by the unsuspecting morning mailman (I marvelled at how little did he wonder: that within the contents of my parcel an author could be about to unpack all the futility of his public service endeavours) de Botton's latest fetched up, with it's newly-minted, freshly-printed, straight-from-the-creative-oven aroma and literally spine-breakingly creaking with words.

One subject at a time de Botton is gradually unpicking the stitching of the modern age. On the heels of travel, architect...more
max
Jul 12, 2009 max rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: library
Botton's lyric and philosophical essays on the modern landscape of productivity is less about individual occupations than it is about the aesthetics of the factory, the office building, and the shipyard. Botton is indifferent to the specific tasks and ideas of his subjects, and instead meditates on what the spaces and organizations of our multinational economies could imply about the legacy of our civilization.

A lofty topic, no doubt, and occasionally burdened by Botton's indulgence in his own m...more
Marcia Conner
In his always brain-stretching way, de Botton reminds us that we make up a privileged workforce, not often recognizing how we've arrived at our situation and perhaps stuck in jobs without meaning or sense of connection. This may not be of our own making, but of the generations before us who didn't quite realize what they were giving up in the name of what they considered progress.

"[W]e have become, after several thousand years of effort, in the industrialised world at least, the only animals to...more
Gerund
Swiss-born, UK-based writer Alain de Botton is the son of the late financial pioneer Gilbert de Botton, who left his family a trust fund of more than £200 million. However, it has been reported that de Botton leaves this vast fortune untapped and lives off only what he earns from writing.

It is thus both ironic and suitable that the title of his latest book is The Pleasures And Sorrows Of Work: Only one who does not have to work for a living would have the luxury to ponder how and why people spe...more
Clif Hostetler
We are all descended from a long line of hunter gatherers who didn't survive unless they continued to consistently hunt and gather. Today we call it work. And except for the fortunate few born with wealth, we all are required to spend a significant portion of our lives working in order to survive. Which raises the question, should be expect a sense of fulfillment from our work, or is it a burden to suffer in order to survive?

This is a book of essay-like musings about work in its various forms, a...more
ann
I enjoyed this book and really wanted to give it at least 4 stars, but I couldn't because it was so blatantly mistitled. It's name implies a kind of comprehensive view of work when in fact it is collection of essays. The name also suggests that the book is more trite and boring that it actually is...i almost didn't read it for this reason.

The book is not about work, as much as it is about human productivity, innovation, consumption and the modern psychology that has evolved around these subjects...more
Jill
I found de Botton's voice condescending and arrogant. He refers to women as "symbols" one too many times for me--just because a woman is attractive doesn't mean that she can't be an effective salesperson independently of her looks.

Beyond the misogyny, I doubt de Botton's ever had a "real job" in his life, and his quest to learn more about the world of work seems like a way for him to look down on all of us working drones. I read the book expecting to find out more about the unique aspects of th...more
Madeline
While unexpectedly delayed in Heathrow, I used leftover Euros to by this, the latest Artemis Fowl, and some gin.

"In older, more hierarchical societies, an individual's fate had largely been decided by the accidents of birth; the difference between success and failure had not hung on a proficiency with the declaration 'I can move mountains.'
However, in the meritocratic, socially mobile modern world, one's status might now well be determined by one's confidence, imagination and ability to convinc...more
Francisco
Work+ Love (I'm not sure about the order) = happiness, said Freud. De Botton looks at the first half of the equation as experienced by so many of us and one can only hope that the love part will somehow tilt the balance. Oh, the things we do to make a living. Which wouldn't be so bad, we have to eat, but do we have to take what we do so damn seriously? Do we have to get colitis and ulcers over what our boss says? Do we need to worry about what Jerry in the next cubicle did? Must we lie awake at...more
Jessie Young
This book was not the book I thought it was going to be. I've never read any of Alain de Botton's books, but I read his tweets, and they are always very abstract/philosophical. I expected this book to be the same.

Instead, it is more of a study of supply chains. I'm not sure if that's the correct phrase, but that is how I see it. The most memorable thread in the book, for me, is when he goes from a fishing boat, to the packing plant, the the shipping center, all the way to the grocery store wher...more
Katherine
This book had high highs and low lows. The photography is beautiful and is a nice compliment to the book - it has a sense of anonymous observation that seems appropriate to de Botton's tone and to the subject matter, which is the work lives of people, with an eye to the experiences of people in specific professions: aviation, accounting, the manufacture of biscuits, among others. But that makes the subject of the book seem far more concrete than it really is. The author is a philosopher and it s...more
Lauren
_How Proust Can Change Your Life_ and _The Consolations of Philosophy_ were such good books that I was sure _The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work_ would be exactly what I was looking for: a meditation on the things that make any job meaningful, from cashier to CEO. Instead, it was a journal-like exploration of specific jobs, similar to his thoughts in _The Art of Travel_; finding poignancy and beauty in warehouse parks and aviation conferences instead of stepping back from observation, thinking abo...more
Gary Davis
As with many of the reviewers, I found this book had its up and downs. At the beginning it gripped me with its sideways look at work, but it seemed not to live up to expectations. Although AdeB has a wondeful style and sees the world in a unique way, he fails to connect the working world with the working schmuck. The words "pleasurs and sorrows" in the title invoke the idea of people, but most of the book is taken up with the fascination of what goes on around the world just off our radar screen...more
John Rinker
The importance of snack biscuits, the dignity of transmission towers, the tranquil beauty of logistics warehouses at night. Above all, the minds, hands, fingers, and hearts of those (like us!) who dedicate their days making the things that the world consumes without a tenth of a thought. This book is a dedication to the producers and their products, and brought a new sense of wonder to my days - to whom am I connected as I type these words on this keyboard? What shoes did they wear, in what fact...more
Damon Young
Let me be blunt: I once loathed Alain de Botton. I thought his Consolations of Philosophy a perversion of my trade. As a philosopher, I saw him as patronising, superficial and simply wrong.

Nearly ten years later, I’ve given Consolations of Philosophy as a gift to friends and relatives. I happily defend his work to shopkeepers and colleagues.

Watching his influence on my family, I realised that the Swiss-born, Cambridge-educated author was sincere, civilised and helpful. It didn’t matter whether o...more
Robert
...or perhaps a better title may have been the Pleasures and Pleasures of work as there is a distinct lack of dissent in this exploration into a variety of workplaces and types of work. It's all too easy to get seduced by the elegance of de Botton's prose or his erudition, but don't be fooled - this is a gawping outsider's ruminations on what people do for a living and why it has so much meaning.

That's not to say that these ruminations are without merit: The author often returns to the indiffere...more
Sam
I first heard about Alain de Botton's "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" on Russ Robert's Econtalk podcast. The host of the show really really really (three reallys!) loves Capitalism. He doesn't just argue that its the most efficient allocator yet invented of scarce resources, he has been totally romanced. He refers to the destruction of jobs, companies, and nations, true ruin, as "creative destruction", which is how Austrian economists like to talk about the ugly spontaneous restructuring of...more
Matthew
In the opening chapters of this book, De Botton makes the point that modern division of labor means that individuals' jobs have become so specialised that the position descriptions which accompany those roles are such that they frequently convey no information about the nature of what the person actually does.

De Botton contends that whereas people in medieval times could wander the streets of the neighborhoods inhabited by tradesmen and guild folk, peering through the windows and observing them...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘All societies have had work at their centre; ..
.. Ours is the first to suggest that it could be something much more than a punishment or a penance.’

This book is a series of ten essays on the theme of work, with each chapter focussing on a different occupation. The essays are enhanced by accompanying black and white photographs.

The journey starts at a harbour on the Thames where cargo ships arrive and then depart as they transport products to and from the UK. These ships are largely invisible (i...more
Steve
As many other reviewers have noted, this book is awkwardly titled—it's not so much about work itself as it about the value or meaning of labor. Or perhaps more than that about work as a bulwark against death and irrelevance, a way to for the individual to be part of something larger in a secular age. So even as de Botton visits launch sites for rockets, and accountancy firms, and art galleries, it seems he's always writing through a particular lens of his own experience,* something hinted at in...more
Kirsten
"I left Symon's company [a career counsellor] newly aware of the unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled within the magnanimous bourgeois assurance that everyone can discover happiness through work and love. It isn't that these two entities are invariably incapable of delivering fulfilment, only that they almost never do so. And when an exception is misrepresented as a rule, our individual misfortunes, instead of seeming to us quasi-inevitable aspects of life, will weigh down on us like particular...more
Spencer
I loved this book not that I think everyone would. It was my kind of book though. As inpronouncable as the spelling of his name is for me, I love his tight, insightful writing that takes me on the most mundane of journeys in the most fascinating way. He writes about biscuit manufacturing, shipping cargo, the nuts and bolts of getting a satellite into orbit (the road to getting anime in every Japanese home includes a stop in French Guiana and many people's who's life work accomplished a perfected...more
Iris
At the close of each chapter, I considered setting aside this book, on the suspicion that the next chapter couldn't possibly attain the heights of the one I'd just read. But I persevered, increasingly enchanted.

Let Mr. de Botton and his photographer jolt you from your sun-soaked torpor; nay, let him take your hand and engage you in deep thought, stretching your imagination and setting alight your curiosity. There's nothing quite like this writer, nor like this book, in their candor, originality,...more
Nils
As ever, de Botton has a very skilled way with language to make us look with new eyes at a familiar subject. Unfortunately in this case it is a more weary and pitying eye that is aimed at work. In some cases he finds joy in and delights in the wonders of our infrastructure that we take for granted (shipping, power), but in most cases he highlights the banality and insignificance of what most of us do on a day to day basis. He tries to turn this around to show well adjusted we are to continue wor...more
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Alain de Botton is a writer and television producer who lives in London and aims to make philosophy relevant to everyday life. He can be contacted by email directly via www.alaindebotton.com

He is a writer of essayistic books, which refer both to his own experiences and ideas- and those of artists, philosophers and thinkers. It's a style of writing that has been termed a 'philosophy of everyday lif...more
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“He was a volatile mixture of confidence and vulnerability. He could deliver extended monologues on professional matters, then promptly stop in his tracks to peer inquisitively into his guest's eyes for signs of boredom or mockery, being intelligent enough to be unable fully to believe in his own claims to significance. He might, in a past life, have been a particularly canny and sharp-tongued royal advisor.” 18 likes
“He was marked out by his relentless ability to find fault with others' mediocrity--suggesting that a certain type of intelligence may be at heart nothing more or less than a superior capacity for dissatisfaction.” 13 likes
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