To some degree, what the reader takes way from Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
will be influenced by what that particular reader brings to it. If you are looking for a serious and exhaustive analysis of work and how it affects both our psychological equilibrium and general sense of well-being, you may be disappointed; although de Botton draws on a variety of examples (some straightforward and illuminating, others eccentric and whimsical), his strategy here is more subtle and allusive, not something which can be demonstrated by adducing a carefully marshalled tranche of facts. Secondly, of course, anyone familiar with the author's approach will hardly be expecting a linear demonstration of a thesis, as might be gathered from his delightful How Proust Can Change Your Life
. Alain de Botton is offering something at once insightful and idiosyncratic: a practical guide to a better quality of life through an off-kilter approach to the subject of work. In the earlier book, we were offered a (not entirely serious) method of extrapolating from the brilliant (and famously difficult) French writer a host of unconventional insights into dealing with our own personal emotional and intellectual fulfilment. Here, the notion of work is addressed with a similarly light/serious touch, following a variety of processes (such as the trajectory of a fish from the ocean to its final destination on the shelves of a supermarket) to examine the multiplicity of possible approaches to work.
The real insights here, however, relate to the way in which work (as de Botton sees it) is both a validation of the true purpose of our existence – and the most assertive way to 'rage against the dying of the light' – in other words, to keep at bay the daunting realisation of what a brief flicker of existence we have. It's a book that is both affirmative and (in its eccentric fashion) quietly persuasive. --Barry Forshaw
De Botton's wit and powers of ironic observation are on display throughout what is a stylish and original book. The workplace brings out the best in his writing (Sunday Times
Timely, wonderfully readable. De Botton has pretty much got to the bottom of the subject (Spectator
Terribly funny, touches us all (Mail on Sunday
Brilliant, enormously engaging (Guardian