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3.7 out of 5 stars43
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 30 October 2009
Customers who buy Alain de Botton's books always know they are in for a thought provoking read, so this book was no exception, Its not just about airports per se but a book about life, people and how we choose to live. I thought the stories from behind the scenes were fascinating. The only fault is the actual book, its a poor quality paper back, the cover split from the rest of the book on first opening the book. Fans would much prefer a small neat hardback.
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on 14 August 2010
After not being very engaged in the last 2 books of Alain de Botton's I have read, I was quickly reminded of why I love his writing and his observations in this far-too-short-for-me [I could've read more and more...:] book.

As Heathrow's first-ever writer-in-residence, from his desk in Terminal 5, as well as his wanderings around the airport, de Botton takes us on a journey, physical and mentally, into the airport and what it, and travel, says about us. As someone to whom airports have an attraction [partially the fact, as de Botton writes, that it feels as if any exotic destination is within reach:] I was constantly engaged and entertained by his keen observations and analysis on subjects ranging from why we travel to our often-felt disappointment with holidays to the farewelling and greeting of travellers to the staff who keep things running, and much, much else. This is truly a most wondrous examination and one that re-introduced to me the wonder of one aspect of modern society that I often take for granted and do not stop to consider.

If this appeals I'd also highly recommend his book The Art of Travel; I saw the DVD in an ABC store the other day and snatched it up -- I was unaware there had been a series: looking forward to watching it.
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on 22 March 2011
This compact book is an interesting insight into goings on at Terminal 5. Alain de Botton was appointed to be the Writer-in-Residence of BAA (the owners of Heathrow Airport) and was asked to write about what goes on at Heathrow. de Botton only agreed to do this if what he found could not be censored or controlled by BAA themselves. He needed free reign.

De Botton looks at a variety of areas of the airport and focuses both on operational things as well as the people who work at and/or use the airport.

So why only 3 stars? Several reasons - the book was too short - I was left unsatisfied, wanting more. As an airport lover, I also found that there wasn't enough about the airport itself for my interest. Comparing it to the admittedly fictional book "Air Babylon", I thought Air Babylon was much more entertaining.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 December 2009
This is my first experience of Alain de Botton's writing and after devouring this book in less than 2 hours (partly due to it's brevity and partly because I enjoyed it so much) I'll be looking to read more of his work.

I'm probably a little unusual in that I love airports and attempt to arrive much earlier than is really necessary so I can get airside as soon as possible and begin to immerse myself in the world of the terminal. I've never been to terminal 5 but the world that de Botton describes could be any large airport terminal; it feels very familiar.

I loved de Botton's perceptive writing and his incisive and insightful look at the lifeblood of the airport. The book is funny, interesting and very engaging. He meets a variety of people and captures their essence in a few short words; impressive observational writing. The photographs by Richard Baker make the book and it wouldn't be as good or feel as complete without them.

This little book is thoroughly enjoyable for the high quality writing and high quality photography. It's one of my favourite books read this year and I'll be getting The Art of Travel soon!
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on 26 December 2009
Firstly, it was very kind of Alain to dedicate this book personally to me. Thanks Alain! :-)

I review this as someone who's spent nearly 25 years working at airports and flown 1200 times. So, I'm biased, but I loved this book because:

1. de Botton made me stop and think about airport and travel scenarious that I'd never considered before e.g. the children's toys in the Immigration Detention Interview Room, or that moment when you open the door for Hotel Room Service naked except for that ubiquitous white 5* dressing gown.

2. It's short yet perfectly concise. No sentence is uninteresting - Jan Morris' words and so true, I re-read the whole book after completing an initial read.

Flying soon?
Buy this book now and enjoy observing the Airports you pass through from a completely new perspective.
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on 3 January 2010
I liked this book. It is the third book on Heathrow in my possession. The other two are the Airlife guide to Heathow, essentially a photo-guide to the great place and Jeremy Spake's delightful and homely "Jeremy's Airport", based on his time during the BBC docu-drama "The Airport". It is also my first De Botton book. The author is a philosopher / writer who seems particularly interested in the philosophy of travel. The author was invited to spend a week as "writer in residence" in the new Terminal 5 building during the summer of 2009. The book may be something of a surprise to those who normally buy books about airports / aircraft. We are taken on a journey from arrivals to departures to airside and finally to arrivals. On the way we meet staff and travellers, and learn something of their story. Amongst the people in the book is Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways. Rather than discussing the problems with BA at the time of writing, the author and Mr Walsh discuss aircraft, and this is fantastic. Mr De Botton deserves credit for this. There are plenty of reflections - some sad, some funny, but one does learn something of the operation of one of the World's most well-known airports.

The photography in the book is good. A photograph on each page enhances the text and gives a good rendering of Terminal 5 life. All in all it is a very decent book, although a tad expensive (the reason why I gave it 4 rather than 5 stars). It should please airport / transport buffs, and is interesting enough for the general reader. I will certainly look to read more of Mr De Botton's work.
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on 29 September 2009
Alain de Botton has been on my list of `authors I should read but haven't quite found the moment'. I hate flying, and airports, but as I have a forthcoming trip via Terminal Five this was obviously the right opportunity. I really enjoyed it, especially the way some passengers seem to have used the author's desk (he set up camp in the terminal during a week as `writer in residence') as a kind of confessional, and the personal stories of the anonymous members of staff you see at the checkin or in security. (There's a cleaner who's also an opera singer) Even the head of BA Willy Walsh who you would expect to come across as rather corporate turns out to be a rather appealing nerdy type. Definitely worth a read. The pics are good too.
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on 8 August 2012
As books on airports and air travel go, Alain de Botton's 'A Week at the Airport' is likely to rank as one of the least conventional. A mixture of existential philosophy, a series of encounters which seem hard to discern as either actual or apocryphal, reflections on a changing world, and the occasional discussion with a member of British Airways staff; this is a book whose target audience seems to be somewhere between travel enthusiasts and downbeat philosophy students. It is a brief work which contains some dazzling insights, yet is inconsistent, littered as it is with endless abstract ruminations (some of which are admittedly more interesting than others), and penned by an author whose snobbery and class prejudices, such as his suggestion that people in first and business class are essentially better individuals than those who fly economy, are as wrongheaded as they are rather offensive.

That said, 'A Week at the Airport', for all its undeniable flaws, has enough positive facets to make it worth reading. De Botton comes up with some superb conclusions, at times, such as his well-wrought contention that though our often troubled minds and lives are something we cannot part with when we fly, there is no service at an airport for existential problems (though the idea of one existing seems both, as he implies, alien, and yet necessary). In terms of comparisons and image, there is no doubt that this is an interesting text. Depictions of Heathrow's architecture, with its nods towards optimism and positive thinking, are excellent; and his linking of his topic to authors, philosophers, artists etc., is something he does with deftness, even if the comparisons are sometimes a touch pretentious. It's hard to say whether I would recommend 'A Week at the Airport', as it is a book which will, with its lengthy abstractions and love of academic reference, certainly divide readers, but if philosophy and flight are both amongst your interests, and you know your Mark Twains from your Milan Kunderas, then this could be the perfect book for you.
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on 2 November 2011
This was never going to be one of those Airport Blockbusters that one buys in WHS to read by the pool.This is a slim volume, probably timed to read nicely between Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle.
I work at an International Airport- not Heathrow- but have spent a bit of time working overtime in Terminal 4.
Therefore I was expecting a inside view of the new Terminal 5, the passengers and the workers, with interesting stories.
Unfortunately, I found this book shallow and disappointing. A week is not enough time to garner a good overview of an Airport and all the characters and situations that arise.
An Airport is a twenty four hour place with the same number of inhabitants as a small city; everyone has a story to tell- sadly not explored in this book. This a waste of a good opportunity.
If you want a good read on what goes on behind the scenes at a busy International Airport- read 'Airport Babylon' or watch 'Come Fly with Me', although that is a spoof comedy programme- it is a lot truer than this book.
Sorry- I thought this book a waste of time.
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VINE VOICEon 30 October 2009
I love this book - Alain de Botton has created a masterpiece of observational writing. In his previous book "The Art of Travel" the opening chapter relating to his experiences in the airport and on-board his flight were wonderfully written and observed. He has taken this to another level and delivered a first class essay on the day to day operations and comings and goings at the worlds busiest international airport. He manages to convey the romance of the airport through discussions with staff, passengers and other observers. The author also manages to reflect on the philosophical experiences of the people who pass through each day. In one section he considers asking Willie Walsh if he could become a writer in residence on one of his aircraft. Whilst this was a tongue in cheek suggestion the result could surely make a fitting sequel to this excellent essay.
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