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83 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Meaning of our Labour
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...
Published on 7 April 2009 by Eric Anderson

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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent however not his best.
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...
Published on 2 May 2009 by James Tunnell


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83 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Meaning of our Labour, 7 April 2009
By 
Eric Anderson (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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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. Thus he might make presumptions about real people by speculating about their consciousness and how they feel about their position in the world. For instance, he summarizes the end of the day for an employee from an accountancy's advisory services and concludes how this man contemplates what has been "difficult, unnecessary and regrettable" about the effort of his labour for that day. The author doesn't specify whether he gleaned this understanding of this individual's inner-existence from a revealing interview or following him home to unobtrusively observe his private life. But one can't help but feel some liberties were taken. This makes me wonder why this author who is so brilliant at investigating the liminal spaces of our existence and the most crucial issues of our lives doesn't write more novels like his first published works.

The author also touchingly interjects elements of himself in the book. This might include finding a likeness of his father in a portrait of the president of the Maldives or a melancholic mood he falls into following the launch of a satellite into space. However, though always taking himself and his enquiries seriously, one can feel a great deal of humour laden in his emphatic pondering especially when he relates this to people he encounters. At one point he desperately asks a girl working on a document about brand performance why "in our society the greatest sums of money so often tend to accrue from the sale of the least meaningful things" and at another point in the Majove desert implores the groundskeeper of an airfield populated by dilapidated airplanes to grant him closer access out of his "preoccupation with the remnants of collapsing civilisations." What is so engaging about de Botton's style is how evidently immediate and crucial the concerns he writes about are to the author himself. Yet, at the same time, he understands that life shouldn't be taken too seriously. This makes the book very personal and enjoyable as well as including profound thoughts about the nature of being. Life is full of questions and, even if no satisfactory answers can be found, Alain de Botton is bravely determined to at least explore the meaning of it all with great eloquence and wit.
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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
By 
James Tunnell "jtunnell1987" (NE England) - See all my reviews
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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
This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Paperback)
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
This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Observations on society, 16 July 2010
In the Pleasures and Sorrows of work Alain de Botton gives us his insights into a number of jobs. He spent considerable time immersing himself in each and has had access to a multitude of areas within each one - for example following a tuna from being caught in the Maldives to served up on a dinner plate in the UK. From this he has stood back and given a typically Bottonesque view about the occupations, free from the day-to-day involvement that often dissuades such examination, providing insightful observations on the nobility or futility of the cause. Mostly it comes across as futility. There is a good amount of humour - well I found a lot of it quite funny - often at the expense of people involved. Any signs of self-importance are exposed and cut down to size.

Examining several different occupations provides a rich insight into many areas of life illuminating one into operations and practices previously unaware of or unaware of their full extent, subtleties and integration into the whole of society. Each on its own causes the reader to pause for thought and reflect. As a collection the message is less coherent than some of his other books, but none the less well worth a read. A notable point is the inclusion of a copious numbers of photographs; - he teamed up with a photographer to produce and almost photo-journalistic essay. These are a welcome inclusion though I wish the reproduction of the photos was of a higher standard.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read, 4 Jun 2010
By 
Alison "runninggirlcycling" (Derbyshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book and I particularly liked the photography and text combination. Neither element would be as good without the other. I really enjoyed Alain de Botton's perceptive approach and how he sees the absurd detail as well as the deeper meaning. There are plenty of amusing parts in the book and so it is an enjoyable read. I don't tend to read philosophy but de Botton's approach is accessible and interesting.

Alain takes a case study approach that gives specific insights to those cases and also generic considerations about work. Each section is very different and each makes for compelling reading in it's own way. The book also gives much more than just a look at our working lives, it is also a discussion of modern life and it's reliance upon globally fragmented skills and knowledge. I felt that the book was balanced a little more towards the pleasures of life with a little of a lament about things lost in the modernity of our culture. I finished it with a positive feeling but it certainly gives a lot of food for thought.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicate, profound, comforting, 19 April 2010
By 
Self-help junkie (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Paperback)
Alain de Botton's writing are like the cool hand of a mother passing comfortingly across a fevered brow. The pleasures of his prose exist at several levels: there is the obvious erudite insight into many of the common problems afflicting our modern world - travel-weariness, anxiety about status, work; and there is also the simple beauty of the words themselves. Many of his sentences take me back for a second and a third reading - often out loud - to savour their sparse beauty.

His latest work is, in my opinion, one of the best. It is both humorous and compassionate. de Botton never talks down to us: he shares our sorrows and frustrations and locates himself clearly within the issues and difficulties he tackles. And although he promises - and delivers - no easy solutions or 'quick-fix' cure-alls, he instead offers something much more valuable and enduring. An appreciation of the beauty and vulnerability of human life, an awareness of the moments of joy and bliss that we may encounter from time to time, and a compassionate understanding that the reality of life for us all has more than its hoped for share of pain and sorrow.

Thank you, Alain. I look forward to many more strokes of your hand across the brow in years to come.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The meaning of it all, 23 Oct 2009
By 
Paul Harrington (Auckland) - See all my reviews
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This is my first de Botton, and I must say I am now a fan. As has already been written multiple times, he writes with eloquence about the everyday nature of existence. Like Barry Forshaw has written in his review, I came to this book looking for affirmation and validation of my existence. I'm not sure if I found it, I'm not sure if it is possible to find it in a single book. But this book certainly adds to the collective library from which I am now able to withdraw. If you too are looking for validation about your individualistic life, give this book a go. You won't find the answer, but you won't regret looking for it in these pages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expectations met, 8 Oct 2009
By 
Very nice book about an aspect of life that makes up about one third of our days, but generally remains hidden even between friends and partners (but obviously not for collegues). One of the most enlightening thoughts I found the tourism towards high-voltage poles. Sometimes the stories lasted a bit too long, but this book is a real gem.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great look at the world of work, 12 April 2010
By 
Mr. J. Horsfall (sheffield, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Paperback)
I like de Botton's books, and I really enjoyed this one too. It's not hard going philosophy, but more of a situationist look at the world. It revolves around a number of 'case studies' including a biscuit factory, a multinational accountacy firm and an entrepreneur fair; and takes you through de Botton's thought process and points out the intricacies of life. It does bring in philosophical ideas and comments on the things being seen, but not in a polemic and dogmatic way. It does nudge you to a certain way of thinking, but doesn't overpower you and allows you to decide for your self if the world of work has gone wrong.

It is very easy to read and is complemented by a number of photos about the journey de Botton takes (so it isn't 336 pages of writing, it's somewhere between 2/3 and 1/2 that probably). I enjoyed the photos, although they are very 'documentary' in style and not beautiful without the text to accompany them (which helps you appreciate them).

Overall a good book, not excellent, but worth reading if you have enjoyed de Botton before.
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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton (Paperback - 25 Mar 2010)
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