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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  3,614 Ratings  ·  433 Reviews
We spend most of our waking lives at work—in occupations most often chosen by our inexperienced younger selves. And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our jobs mean to us.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work is an exploration of the joys and perils of the modern workplace, beautifully exploring what other people wake up to do each day—and night—to make our
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published (first published 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
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
J.G. Keely
Aug 21, 2013 J.G. Keely marked it as to-avoid  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 17, 2009 Ken-ichi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: learning, snoot, work
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
Apr 08, 2009 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 08, 2009 Gerund rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 spen
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 we 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
Jul 12, 2009 max rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Marcia Conner
Jun 01, 2013 Marcia Conner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 07, 2009 ann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 10, 2009 Madeline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Anyone nursing a disappointment with domestic life would find relief in this tiled, brightly lit cafeteria with its smells of fries and petrol, for it has the reassuring feel of a place where everyone is just passing through – and which therefore has none of the close-knit or convivial atmosphere which could cast a humiliating light on one’s own alienation. It suggests itself as an ideal location for Christmas lunch for those let down by their families.

What a peculiar civilisation this was: inor
Nov 13, 2014 Safura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
ستاره کتاب در اصل چیزی بین سه و چهار است. کتاب مجموعهای از ده مقاله با موضوع ده شغل است. نویسنده همراه این شغلها و آدمها شده و هر چیزی را که به ذهنش رسیده نوشته است. بیشتر برای فهم بهتر کار، چیزی که بیشتر زندگی ما به آن میگذرد و لزوما مایه خوشبختی و شادی نیست. کتاب را با کمی سختی خواندم ، البته نه با زجر. یکی به خاطر نوع نثرش که به قول نویسنده شعر منثور است و من از این جور نثر خوشم نمیآید. یکی دیگر هم به خاطر اینکه وسط کتاب بارها از خودم میپرسیدم چه چیزی تو را و خواننده های دیگر را ترغیب کرده که ...more
Damon Young
Mar 15, 2014 Damon Young rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 18, 2013 Francisco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 10, 2012 Jessie Young rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 19, 2010 Spencer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Pardis Parto
Oct 04, 2014 Pardis Parto rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
گزارش آلن دوباتن از مشاغل گوناگون از حد توصیف مشاغل فراتر می رود و به بررسی معنای وسیع تری از آن مشاغل و فراتر از آن به خود زندگی می پردازد. این کتاب نیز مثل کارهای دیگر وی، یک نگاه فیلسوفانه به زندگی شهری و دنیای مدرنی که در آن زندگی می کنیم دارد.
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
بین چند کتاب ترجمه شدهی دوباتن به نظرم بهترین و پختهترین کتابش هست. براش واقعا زحمت کشیده شده. خود کتاب عکاس اخثصاصی داشته که همراه نویسنده بوده و کلی عکس معرکه گرفته (که ای کاش کتاب رنگی بود.) کسایی که قبلا کتابی از دوباتن خونده باشن میدونن فضای کتاب چطوری هست. اما این بار نثر نویسنده خیلی زیباتر شده؛ تشبیههایی که به کار برده اونقدر ناب و دوستداشتنی هستن که آدم گاهی مسیر اصلی خود بحث رو رها میکنه و به همین تشبیه فکر میکنه. کلی نقلقول خوب هم توی کتاب هست و باز هم مثل همیشه نویسنده داره تلاشش رو ...more
John Rinker
May 19, 2012 John Rinker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Adrian Scoica
Jan 05, 2015 Adrian Scoica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book contains the best outline I have ever read of the psychology of work, viewed as validation of self in the context of our predictable mortality:

"Our work will at least have distracted us, it will have provided a perfect bubble in which to invest our hopes for perfection, it will have focused our immeasurable anxieties on a few relatively small-scale and achievable goals, it will have given us a sense of mastery, it will have made us respectably tired, it will have put food on the table.
Oct 03, 2011 Robert rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
...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
Dec 08, 2010 Sam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
May 18, 2011 Jen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. I have never read this author before, so had no idea what to expect. He is amazing. I had to read him slowly to take in the beautiful writing, pithy descriptions, and witty observations.

On ship spotters: "how fickle museum-goers seem by comparison, with their impatient interest in cafeterias, their susceptibility to gift shops, their readiness to avail themselves of benches."

At a job fair: "It seemed that one might squander one's life chances because of a high-handed disdain for books
Dec 17, 2009 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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

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 about Alain de Botton...

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“When does a job feel meaningful? Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others. Though we are often taught to think of ourselves as inherently selfish, the longing to act meaningfully in our work seems just as stubborn a part of our make-up as our appetite for status or money. It is because we are meaning-focused animals rather than simply materialistic ones that we can reasonably contemplate surrendering security for a career helping to bring drinking water to rural Malawi or might quit a job in consumer goods for one in cardiac nursing, aware that when it comes to improving the human condition a well-controlled defibrillator has the edge over even the finest biscuit.

But we should be wary of restricting the idea of meaningful work too tightly, of focusing only on the doctors, the nuns of Kolkata or the Old Masters. There can be less exalted ways to contribute to the furtherance of the collective good....

....An endeavor endowed with meaning may appear meaningful only when it proceeds briskly in the hands of a restricted number of actors and therefore where particular workers can make an imaginative connection between what they have done with their working days and their impact upon others.”
“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.” 25 likes
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