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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work [Hardcover]

Alain de Botton
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 April 2009

We spend most of our waking lives at work - in occupations often chosen by our unthinking sixteen-year-old selves. And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what it might mean for us.

Equally intrigued by work's pleasures and its pains, Alain de Botton here heads out into the under-charted worlds of the office, the factory, the fishing fleet and the logistics centre, ears and eyes open to the beauty, interest and sheer strangeness of the modern workplace. 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 yet as central to us as our love lives.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hamish Hamilton; hardcover edition (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241143535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241143537
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 14.1 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 317,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alain de Botton is the author of Essays in Love (1993), The Romantic Movement (1994), Kiss and Tell (1995), How Proust can Change your Life (1997), The Consolations of Philosophy (2000) The Art of Travel (2002), Status Anxiety (2004) and most recently, The Architecture of Happiness (2006).

Product Description

Amazon Review

To some degree, what the reader takes way from Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work will be influenced by what that particular reader brings to it. If you are looking for a serious and exhaustive analysis of work and how it affects both our psychological equilibrium and general sense of well-being, you may be disappointed; although de Botton draws on a variety of examples (some straightforward and illuminating, others eccentric and whimsical), his strategy here is more subtle and allusive, not something which can be demonstrated by adducing a carefully marshalled tranche of facts. Secondly, of course, anyone familiar with the author's approach will hardly be expecting a linear demonstration of a thesis, as might be gathered from his delightful How Proust Can Change Your Life. Alain de Botton is offering something at once insightful and idiosyncratic: a practical guide to a better quality of life through an off-kilter approach to the subject of work. In the earlier book, we were offered a (not entirely serious) method of extrapolating from the brilliant (and famously difficult) French writer a host of unconventional insights into dealing with our own personal emotional and intellectual fulfilment. Here, the notion of work is addressed with a similarly light/serious touch, following a variety of processes (such as the trajectory of a fish from the ocean to its final destination on the shelves of a supermarket) to examine the multiplicity of possible approaches to work.

The real insights here, however, relate to the way in which work (as de Botton sees it) is both a validation of the true purpose of our existence – and the most assertive way to 'rage against the dying of the light' – in other words, to keep at bay the daunting realisation of what a brief flicker of existence we have. It's a book that is both affirmative and (in its eccentric fashion) quietly persuasive. --Barry Forshaw


Clever, provocative and fresh as a daisy (Literary Review on The Architecture of Happiness )

Full of splendid ideas, often happily and beautifully expressed . . . an engaging and intelligent book (Independent on The Architecture of Happiness )

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
83 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Meaning of our Labour 7 April 2009
Something about Alain de Botton's writing captivates me. Though great chunky paragraphs of this photo essay are taken up with things which are banal on the surface like detailed descriptions of how biscuits are manufactured or the workings of electricity lines, the author's pithy observations about the individuals involved and his asides about the nature of being are engrossing. This author investigates an eclectic range of professions such as tuna fishing, career counselling, painting and accountancy. He begins the book by pondering the complex network of work involved which delivers to us goods in our everyday lives and how we are largely blithely unaware of these goods' origins. He then investigates a series of professions as a base point, engaging with the professionals involved in order to try to understand how this labour relates to their place in the world. The result is a sort of travelogue, each section containing a large amount of photographs to accompany the text, created with the help of photographer Richard Baker. Many of these pictures are beautiful and poignant in themselves, adding an even greater depth and understanding to the text which runs alongside them.

Many of the people the author encounters are treated with a good deal of sympathy and one feels his observations to be largely accurate based on his personal impressions of them. I grew to feel admiration, respect and envy for people who are emphatically engaged in their professions and passionate about the importance of their labour. However, at some points de Botton's prose lapse almost too far into a novelistic approach so that individuals he meets are fitted into the author's schematic understanding of certain workers' reality.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent however not his best. 2 May 2009
I've read all of de Botton's published work and many of his books can leave you wanting still. I eagerly awaited the release of this one thinking that it would blow me away the same way Consolations of Philosophy or Status Anciety did, however I quickly found myself becoming disappointed.
Rather than examine the reader or society as a whole, de Botton takes various occupations and work places and rips them apart, exposing the innards for us all to see and read. Many of them, such as shipping and distrubution were not exactly my favourite and I found myself putting the book down - a first for a de Botton!
However there are some interesting points made throughout. His time with a therapist helps us to realise that we are often stuck in jobs that were given to us at a time when we never really knew what we wanted from life or what was offered so we stick to these. I found myself having an entirely new work ethic after reading that particular chapter. You learn to appreciate the beauty in little things around you which is a trait common in all his books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book to savour, read slowly... 19 Jan 2011
By Den
I admit I have a love/hate relationships with De Botton's literature, in the main, with the exception of his excellent Status anxiety I find his content ambling and off topic in a way only a philosopher could ever get away with. Yet what I love is his use of vocabulary to make his writing a comfort blanket of a read. The words chosen are soft and rounded, seductively spoken throughout the pages to cam and entrance the reader. You will find no abrasive language with Botton, none is needed, only beautiful literature here and written in a way that disguises his depth of philosophical insights as though allowing the reader to peek inside a secret window of his life.

One chapter for example is all about biscuits, even a dunker like myself would find reading a whole chapter about biscuits a terrible bore, but Botton doesn't try to persuade the reader to feign interest in the chapter, or even in biscuits as a whole, rather the writing style is as seductive as allowing expensive chocolate to slowly melt in the mouth so the taste buds savour every moment. When reading the biscuit chapter I was switched off to the content in favour of the seductive haze of the words, the descriptive values, the whole structure from sentence to paragraph allowed me to sail through the chapter and indeed the entire book' feeling completely relaxed and entirely enveloped in his work.

You should read this book not only because of the great philosophical insights to be gained, but also for the distinct pleasure of reading quality literature and raising us from the so much trashy literature that litters the shelves of once reputable dealers who now just want to cash in on the latest pop. culture books.

A fantastic read, highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DJJ 3 Jan 2011
I am a fan of ADB's books and count "the Architecture of Happiness" and "Status Anxiety" as amongst my favourites. I enjoyed this one, but more for the journey than than the destination. It is written with ADB's usual, highly engaging, style and includes the kind of the insights and witticisms that I've come to expect from him. As such, it never fell short of being an interesting read and I would encourage everyone to read it.

At the same time, though, in some ways it left me feeling as unfulfilled as many of lives that he describes. (Perhaps that's the point?) The sorrows outweigh heavily the pleasures, although that's no doubt more a reflection of the subject matter than the author. My main disappointment was the lack of analysis. The book's conclusions seem to be that:

(i) the mundane, absurdly specialised and trivial things we do are no different from what we always did insofar as they provide us with the material means to survive; and
(ii) if we didn't occupy ourselves with work, we'd have bigger things to worry about, namely the onmipresence of death and the pointlessness of our existence.

I agree with Alain on both counts, but was hoping for much more. The other small disappointments for me were the fact that ADB seems not to have been able to resist the temptation to scorn some of his subjects and also his obvious detachment from the world he was describing. Both of these issues caused me to ask myself for the first time quite who is ADB? My extensive research (i.e. a quick look at Wikipedia) tells me that ADB is fortunate enough to have a substantial family legacy waiting in the wings should he need it and that has slightly coloured my view of this book as a whole.

On the whole though, another enjoyable and thought-provoking read. Keep up the good work Alain...
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Shame about the cover
If you have ever worked, or considered working, this is a wonderful way to remember why you did it (apart from the money). Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nina Martin
2.0 out of 5 stars I'm a fan, but
It's a nice piece of work but shows to much evidence of someone who's taken a cursory glance at someone else's story, vaguely picking up on what their lives are like and then leave... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Me
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking as usual
Poetic prose about docks and power lines, shines a spotlight on the futility of non producing jobs. The range of author's knowledge is epic from ancient Greece to incontinent... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Cally Thistle
4.0 out of 5 stars But what's the point?
This is the first book by Alain de Boton that I have read and I, while I enjoyed it, it presents some challenges to the reader. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Phil Crooks
3.0 out of 5 stars I wish I could rate it higher than this...
Alain de Botton has decided to take up an extremelly large and daunting project - nothing less than attempting to assign meaning to the daily grind faced by the modern worker. Read more
Published 13 months ago by MrNLon
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read
The summary as written on line prepared one for this book. No great surprises. Enjoyable to read if this is your taste in literature
Published 22 months ago by pat neale
3.0 out of 5 stars The pleasures and sorrows of work
The book is an interesting concept looking more closely at the world we live in and sharing the passions of people who are interested in topics that we would not have thought... Read more
Published 24 months ago by Jan
2.0 out of 5 stars Quite disappointing
I have read quite of few of de Botton's books, but found this very disappointing. In fact I have been trying to finish it for the last few months; it is quite a hard slog. Read more
Published on 25 Jan 2012 by LKTOTNES
2.0 out of 5 stars Hoping for more
Not particularly philosophical or insightful; I was hoping for a bit more original thought. Basically just a narrative of other people's work whom he has 'shadowed' whilst getting... Read more
Published on 5 May 2011 by P. Spencer
5.0 out of 5 stars The best de Botton I have read so far
I read this a month or two ago and found it absolutely captivating. I have read Essays in Love (which is wonderful), Consolations of Philosophy (pretty good) and Status Anxiety (a... Read more
Published on 14 Jan 2011 by greenamber83
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