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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  5,147 ratings  ·  542 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
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published June 2nd 2009 by Pantheon (first published 2008)
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May 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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
J.G. Keely
Aug 21, 2013 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 i
Tom Quinn
May 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I spotted this book among a display at my local library, one of those monthly themed-topic selections the library staff picks out. What We're Reading This Month or If You Liked That, You'll Like This, or something similar. As I was going through a bit of an existential crisis career-wise at the time, the title really grabbed me so I pulled out my phone, added it to my trusty Goodreads to-read list, and there it sat for two years or so.

When I finally got around to reading it, I wasn't sure what
Sep 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: work, learning, snoot
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
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
Apr 03, 2009 rated it liked it
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
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
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
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is not one of Botton's best--mostly because it is very unstructured and meandering. However, like most of his other books, there are several really enlightening observations and wise words about the nature of work. Basically, we are told to find meaning in work, but much of the modern work economy is meaningless. He talks about the biscuit factory for example and how much of their time is spent not making biscuits, but making clever ads about their biscuits. But he's not judgmental about it ...more
Clif Hostetler
Aug 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: current-events
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 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 07, 2009 rated it liked it
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
John Stepper
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
It made me think, and laugh, and cringe at times.

There are beautiful vignettes about different types of work and the people who do them, though too many were marred by the author being too clever at the expense of people who granted him time and access. (I can't imagine anyone agreeing to an interview in the future!)

Still, the book has stuck with me. And some of the prose is thought-provoking and beautiful.
Mehwish Mughal
I am a big fan of Alain de Botton's work but this book did not live up to my expectations. It lacked his regular philosophical analysis.
I am glad that this was not his first book that I had picked. If it was, I would have never read him again.
Marcia Conner
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Damon Young
Mar 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Darren Haarsma
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was forced to rethink the complex inner-workings of our modern world. This was an enjoyable journey with a few interesting anecdotes to provide colour. Alain's poetic look into the exciting and the dull aspects of work elicits a troubling mix of depressive and excited feelings for the daily shouldering of a burden. I would recommend to anyone struggling to find meaning in their career. ...more
Jessie Young
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How does one go about becoming a professional philosopher? Sounds pretty fun to me, getting paid to shadow various professionals and muse on the meaning of life through the description of power pylons, entrepreneurship fairs and broken airplanes abandoned in the Mojave desert. And using the word "bathetic" a whole bunch of times.
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work made me feel very detached from the self-important rat race. It won't last more than a day or two, but it was nice.
Oct 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading this journey through occupations that I've never really thought about and meditating their consequences, their impact on our world. That makes it sound deadly serious but really it's not, Botton has quite a deft, understated sense of humour. Some seem to find him pretentious but I didn't think so. Or maybe I'm just pretentious too.

Anyhow I particularly enjoyed the chapters on logistics (how stuff gets from way over there to here where we need it), on painting (a painter who is
Caroline Peni
Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work takes us to a day in the life of ordinary works, in which we never really pay attention to. The passages translated into writing accompanied by photo journals as he wanted us to immerse the life of each persona. Alain's writing is very descriptive as you will notice from the details he put on it. For me, it distracted me from understanding the flow and the meaning of the story. It took me to read the whole book to get the punching lines. Perhap ...more
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best piece of literature I have read this year. I am a big fan of Alain de Botton, having been introduced to his work through his YouTube channel "School of Life". It opened for me the various schools of philosophy ,which has greatly affected the way I view the world.

This book explores various professions and provides a glimpse into the life of various individuals pursuing them. The writing might come across very erudite, elitist and verbose to most readers, who might have picked up this boo
Aug 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
The title may be misleading, perhaps by trying to appeal to a broader audience. What De Botton really did was writing excellent vignettes; detailed descriptions of the context and people involved in certain professions. It does, however, give the reader insight into the importance of work and the meaningfulnes people attribute to it. Up until the last few pages, De Botton refrains from drawing conclusions, leaving it up to the reader to think about the pleasures and sorrows of work.
Nov 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
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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 li

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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.”
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