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42 Reviews
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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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3.0 out of 5 stars I wish I could rate it higher than this..., 12 July 2013
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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
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, 27 Oct 2012
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The summary as written on line prepared one for this book. No great surprises. Enjoyable to read if this is your taste in literature
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3.0 out of 5 stars The pleasures and sorrows of work, 8 Sep 2012
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This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Kindle Edition)
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 anyone would take the slightest interest in. Towards the middle of the book I think the author was also finding it difficult to dredge up any more topics to cover and the book seemed to drag on a bit. However an interesting book to read overall which gives you a new perspective on things like power pylons and accountants. There are some priceless little gems like the secretary at Ernst and Young who was so good looking that she froze any productive work around her work station by men of course. The author's command of English is amazing.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Quite disappointing, 25 Jan 2012
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. Whilst his other books for example, the Architecture of Happiness, Status Anxiety, How Proust can change your life and The consolations of Philosophy have been a joy to read; both informative and uplifting, even if he does sometimes state the obvious. This book appears to contain just dull observations about the fine details of the commercial world. If you were to choose a de Botton book go for The Consolations of Philosophy (I have read this twice and leant it to several people who have not been disappointed) or How Proust can change your life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best de Botton I have read so far, 14 Jan 2011
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 bit dull in my opinion) and thought de Botton's insight into work, its meanings and different individual approaches was utterly fascinating and very refreshing as it really does take a unique perspective upon the idea of career vs job.

Perhaps it's because I'm a psychology student, but whatever it is, it resonated with me and I found it his best work yet. How Proust Can Change Your Life is next on the list!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual approach, still great reading, 12 Jan 2011
I am a big Alain de Botton fan and have read a number of his books, I looked forward to reading this one and was not disappointed. Alain seems to have taken a different approach in this book, leaving the reader to draw her own conclusions rather more than usual. I enjoyed being taken on the journeys that others take in their daily working lives but that I will never experience first hand.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Putting life in perspective, 9 July 2009
By 
H. A. Aasen "minijaguar" (Norway) - See all my reviews
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Alain De Botton is a master at prodding you on the shoulder and waking you from everyday life, making you pay attention to the subtleties of modern life and what may or may not be the meaning of life. Work is something most humans invest enormous amounts of time in, but it is also frought with bitterness and stress at times. In "The Pleasures And Sorrows Of Work", De Botton puts our modern struggles in perspective, examining various situations from the 72 hour journey of tuna fillets from the Indian Ocean to a dinner table in Bristol, the seemingly impossible combination of personality traits needed to become a successful entrepeneur, and the mysteries of accounting. Throughout the book, De Botton gives us nuggets of insight into the history of work - what happened when bosses could no longer whip people into performing, but were forced to encourage and cajole, for example? "The Pleasures And Sorrows of Work" is yet another thought provoking book from De Botton, which tells a complicated story in lucid and at times amusing style, pin-pointing parts of what is the very essence of our time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Another great book from De Botton, 20 May 2009
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I. Holder (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
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I did not enjoy this as much as his other books I have read [all except "The Architecture of Happiness" which I need to get asap], but this is still an immensely enjoyable and thought-provoking book. Alain de Botton has travelled the world in examining various occupations first-hand, and the result is an intriguing and fascinating look at not only the jobs people do [increasingly becoming specialised as we divide labour] and the effect this may have on one's view and value of their work, but also the environments they work in.
It may need another re-read for me to gain, and perhaps appreciate, more; but given I read and re-read Alain de Botton's books regularly, a re-read is a given anyway.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A talented author animates a seemingly prosaic subject, 18 May 2009
By 
Serghiou Const (Nicosia, Cyprus) - See all my reviews
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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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Departure for de Botton, 13 May 2009
By 
Mr. N. T. Baxter "Neil" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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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.
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