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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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4.0 out of 5 stars More pleasure than sorrow, 9 May 2009
This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
De Botton has a very distict writing style. He uses wordy sentences using a kind of acacdemic paintbrush and yet I find his writing always very clear and comprehensible. The joy of this book is in the choice of subjects, of jobs, that De Botton has decided to investigate. Only accountancy might have been an obvious job to examine in a book about types of work, but logistics, biscuit manufacture, transmission engineering and career counselling, almost certainly not, and it is this that makes the book all the more interesting. As in his other books, De Botton's ability to stand back from his subjects, to observe and try to understand before judging, pays dividends. For every time where you feel De Botton has gone down a blind alley with his observations there is a moment of enlightened and profound thought which causes the reader to look at something in a new way, and makes him/her think. That is a real skill, and one that makes this book well worth reading. On the down side, it seems to me that the book is less cohesive and less planned than earlier books. At one point De Botton makes the point that he had been struggling to find a direction in his writing, to find a subject to write about. My impression is that this book is a compilation of short stories that he has tied together in a loose manner. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, I do think that De Botton has missed the opportunity for an even more profound book about the pleasures and sorrows of work. He has scratched the surface of the subject, and in a very interesting manner, but a man of his talents could have produced a truly wonderful book on the subject had he approached it in a more methodical and planned way.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Work put in perspective., 8 May 2009
By 
Peter Holdsworth (France) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
As always with books by Alain de Botton, this book was extremely readable (in fact, it is not such a long book as it might look, because there are a lot of photographs, and he does describe the book as a photographic essay). It is full of interesting insights into work, and how important and unimportant it is in our lives. Very relevant for those of us who don't earn zillions of dollars and who want to find justification, pleasure, and status in work beyond the need to bring in an income.

One extremely small tick which is that the author describes a visit to an airfield for derelict planes as spontaneous, a result of his own ineptitude, so it must have been quite a coincidence that he had the photographer along with him.

Nevertheless, an excellent book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hoping for more, 5 May 2011
By 
P. Spencer (Widnes, UK) - See all my reviews
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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 a few nice jollys around the globe in the process. Nice work if you can get it.....
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Putting 'work' into perspective in recessionary times..., 10 May 2009
By 
Roger Fielding (Ilkley, Yorkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
"For anyone who wants to put 'work' into proper life-enhancing perspective, in these difficult economic times of recession and job losses, this is a 'must read' book. I love the way Alain de Botton challenges the taken-for-granted perspectives we often have on our work, bringing anyone with pretensions about their own self-importance crashing to the ground. His take on biscuit manufacturing should be compulsory reading. "Biscuits are a branch of psychology now" his interviewee asserts as he recounts his commitment to formulating a biscuit which will satisfy the emotional longings and need for sympathy and affection of low-income mothers. Evident experts as we are at assembling confectionery de Botton recognises that we still have no solutions to more meaningful personal and societal imperatives. Let's be serious about what we do but not take ourselves too seriously or we risk failing to engage with what really matters seems to be his central thesis in this book. We have all worked with those who can only see their own self-centred point of view and are lesser people for it. De Botton's book is the antidote. He comments on the ordinary everyday business-as-usual in such a way as to render it extraordinary and questionable. He likens our common commitment to work to the moth around the light bulb, refusing to contemplate "the broader scheme in which he will be dead by nightfall". This is not pessimistic but rather recognition of the fact that we can so easily exaggerate the significance of what we are doing, failing to accept 'the necessary myopia' of our everyday commitment to work for what it is. De Botton concludes that above all else "our work will at least ... have put food on the table" and might successfully, but sadly perhaps, have distracted us from more important considerations. "
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `All societies have had work at their centre; .., 3 Dec 2010
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
.. Ours is the first to suggest that it could be something much more than a punishment or a penance.'
This book is a series of ten essays on the theme of work, with each chapter focussing on a different occupation. The essays are enhanced by accompanying black and white photographs.

The journey starts at a harbour on the Thames where cargo ships arrive and then depart as they transport products to and from the UK. These ships are largely invisible (in the sense that no-one is looking) to those not directly concerned with their passage. Yet this hidden industry impacts on the lives of many. The next chapter, which looks at work in a logistics park, focuses on the distribution of goods - many of which are perishable - to their destinations on supermarket shelves. And, in a specific example, the chapter traces the journey of a tuna from its origin in the Indian Ocean to a dinner table in Bristol. The logistics of transport and distribution is both blandly anonymous, and deeply personal.

Later chapters explore biscuit manufacture in Belgium, career counselling, aviation and rocket science. De Botton also explores painting, transmission engineering, accountancy and entrepreneurship. And in each of these cases we are mindful of De Botton's question: `When does a job feel meaningful?' While many people struggle to find satisfying work, others like Stephen Taylor the landscape painter, seem to enjoy what they do. The role of the career counsellor, Robert Symons, is to help people find meaningful work - but what does this really mean if people are unsure about what they would like to do or feel locked into a choice they made as teenagers?

These are very different workplaces, and the expectations (if not the needs) of those who work in them are also different. Or are they? These essays don't so much contain certainties as they invite the reader to think about possibilities. Many of us are well aware of the importance of the work we and those important to us perform. Many of us are aware that today's modern society requires an extraordinarily complex set of occupations and divisions of labour to keep it functioning. Few of us know much, in detail, about many of those occupations. And while we don't need to, sometimes it's good to be reminded of the variety of ways in which humankind occupy themselves in the form of work.

I enjoyed reading these essays, and it has given me food for thought about the choices we make in relation to work and its meaning in our lives.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful writing, 1 Jun 2009
By 
Helen Welsh (Fife, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
This book provides a wry, sympathetic, ironic look at work and what it means to us. I bought it because I was at risk of redundancy and was terrified at the prospect of unemployment; it helped me think through my options more calmly. De Botton explores all kinds of work, including many that I never knew existed. His portraits of the biscuit designer and the career adviser are wonderfully poignant and fillet out the notion that some kinds of work might be more meaningful, or rewarding, than others. I also enjoyed the way the author revealed himself in the discourses he held with others, showing his own vulnerabilities in terms of his career choices - just when we thought he must be the only person on the planet to have it all sussed. De Botton describes his first essay as a 'photo-essay', and this is a very reader-friendly way to introduce us to his theme. The photos throughout the book are pleasant and in some ways not all that remarkable; but they cause you to slow down and compare the text with the photos, and thereby allow you to think more reflectively - a great result for a philosophical tome. This was a wonderfully soothing book for me at this point in my life; it left me wishing for more, especially on his suggestions, undeveloped in this book, on the comparisons of work with love. I recommend it to anyone who has any itching of dissatisfaction with the way they earn their crust.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Joy of Pleasures and Sorrow, 4 Jun 2009
By 
Pauline (Netherlands) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
As always, this book by De Botton is beautifully written - subtly humorous and elegant. The style is enhanced by wonderful photographs, making the whole is a pleasure to behold. Not all parts are equally engaging, and some slightly lack De Botton's personal presence, thereby diminishing the feeling of all being in the same boat, as humans, that he can often convey so well. Nevertheless I was once again very happy to read his book, and am looking forward to the next one.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stimulating read, 16 May 2009
By 
Charles Lowe (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
This book is beautifully written, at times very amusing, intriguingly illustrated (in black and white) and very nicely presented. Most important of all though, by examining such a wide range of occupations, from many different angles, Alain de Botton made me think hard about the nature of work and why I do it. It really opened my eyes too, to the variety of activities people engage in. I would highly recommend it to anyone inquisitive about what occupies other people's waking hours and keen to draw from that their own conclusions on the nature and purpose of work...and perhaps life.
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13 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Should have slated work more, 11 Jun 2009
This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
I was expecting an anarchic slant on work along the lines of Eliot's:

'A crowd flowed over London bridge
So many.
I had not known death had undone so many.'

Basically, why do we agree to work at all? Instead he examines a lot of very boring jobs in extensively tedious detail, probably offends his father by comparing him to a totalitarian dictator and includes lots of arty pictures of cows, ships and tuna.

Gave up after chapter three.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Every picture tells a story, 4 July 2009
This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
This is a quirky, original look at areas of work most of us know nothing about. The photos accompanying the text lift it out of the ordinary and it is beautifully produced. It's an easier read than you might expect and I enjoyed it. However, there are some errors of fact: on page 134 the author states: "...a member of the European Union, its [French Guiana's] highest legal authority is the Court of Justice in Strasbourg". It isn't; the European Court of Justice is in Luxembourg, and is the highest legal authority for EU states. Strasbourg is the location of the European Court of Human Rights, which is an insitutions of the Council of Europe, not the EU (although all EU states are members).
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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton (Hardcover - 2 April 2009)
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