on 19 January 2011
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!
on 3 January 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...
on 12 July 2013
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. Despite failing to do this (I don't think any philosopher, living or dead, can lay claim to this impossible feat) the book is not without worth.
What I personally enjoyed was being given a detailed and often photographic insight into a myriad of professions, whose workings I never could have pictured. It was very interesting to be told the story of the painter, who had spent years and years painting the same tree; there are certainly some inspiring stories of human endeavour and self-sacrifice to be had. If you read the free extract on amazon, you cannot help being drawn in by de Botton's beautiful and observent writing style - I found myself touched when he comments on the lack of interest between two workers in their exchage at the shipping port; why do we so often miss out on so much potential information through a habitual lack of interest?
After having said what I enjoyed about the book, I am finding it difficult to state in words why I cannot rate it higher than three stars. Perhaps I expected something different, more concrete (I myself am just starting out on the career ladder.) I wanted to gain something from this book that I don't think it can offer; it functions more as a work of creative writing than a guide to the world of work. Maybe it is because of his style; de Botton can embellish even the most boring and mundane subject. This is a book that requires much engagement on a personal level and, for me, his philosophical failure tarnishes the whole experience.
The Art of Travel I found to be much more stimulating
on 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. 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.
on 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.
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.
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.
on 23 October 2009
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.
on 18 May 2009
Alain De Botton is a talented author. His main characteristics are erudition and philosophical disposition. His writing is simple, elegant, lucid, light in touch and witty.
The book, however, is as much the product of talent as of meticulous and systematic research on the topics he discusses and of extensive travel both in England and far away lands to obtain first hand information. He vividly relates his experiences and impressions to the reader. Suffice it to mention in this regard that he travelled to the Maldives in the Indian Ocean for the project in 'Logistics' to observe inter alia Tuna fishing and to French Guiana in Latin America to witness the launching of an Ariane TV satellite in relation to the project 'Rocket Science'. In all his travels he was accompanied by a photographer and the eclectic black and white photographs complement beautifully the fascination of the text. But it would be wrong to relegate this sophisticated, rich and multifaceted book to the mere category of an illustrated documentary.
The book comprise ten chapters namely 'Cargo Ship Spotting', 'Logistics', 'Biscuit Manufacture', 'Career Counselling', 'Rocket Science', 'Painting', 'Transmission Engineering', 'Accountancy', Entrepreneurship', and 'Aviation'.
The reader obtains an insight into the myriad activities, specializations and division of labour unbeknownst to him which in our contemporary world collectively contribute to an end product or service while the reader or consumer is familiar only with this end product or service. But the book is not restricted to merely providing this insight. The book also provides the milieu and describes the atmosphere in which this multitude of activities take place, the feelings and attitudes of people within and outside their working environment and a wide spectrum of reflections by the author which comprise the more interesting aspect of the book.
The quality of individual chapters is generally excellent but not invariably so. I found for example the chapter on 'Transmission Engineering' poor almost prosaic while that of 'Accountancy' exceptionally good.
The conclusion of the book is masterly.
In the final pages of the book in the chapter 'Aviation', the author while visiting an aeroplane cemetery in the Mojave desert in California reflects that possibly the most redeeming value of work, any work is that it detracts our minds from contemplating death.
As I expected having read the Consolations of Philosophy, the Art of Travel, Status Anxiety and How Proust can Change your Life, I really enjoyed de Botton's latest book. He applies to the world of work a recurring philosophical theme from his earlier works, that we should pay more attention to the minutiae of our daily lives in order to appreciate the beauty and exoticism all around us, and picks over a range of jobs and work processes in order to reveal the beauty, ugliness, tedium and meaning that infuse even the most mundane of jobs.
De Botton's prose is extremely poetic as in previous books, only more so. His observations, whether humourous or depressing, work to create an almost dream-like atmosphere - for me anyway - as he seems to float above his subjects and attempt to observe them as a young child or an alien might. There seems to be a lot of cynicism in his approach sometimes, but I guess it's hard to not to be cynical about a man's apparent devotion to the world of ginger nut biscuit manufacture (they make the biscuits round because the circle is the ancient symbol of femininity and completeness).
I didn't give this book 5 stars because it's actually rather different to his other books, and I prefered the old format. In the past de Botton has analysed and compared the philosophical works of other philosophers and given us really insightful and interested takes on their works, relating them to everyday situations and making them come to life. In this book HE is the philosopher, and the observations, ideas and musings are primarily his own. It's more of a work of one man rather than his previous creations which were synthesises or critiques of one or more of the greats. I really liked the old format and discovered Proust, Epicurus and Montaigne through them, but there's no chance of discovering much more from this book than de Botton's own ideas - as interesting as they are.
So, it's 4 stars for me. Would certainly recommend it, but it's not quite the same kind of thing as his other stuff. This is more of a personal reflection or musing on the meaning and detail of our modern, compartmentalised working lives.