A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary Paperback – 24 Sep 2009
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You'll read this book with a wry smile. I love the way he sees the airport's security staff as 'like thriller writers ... paid to imagine life as a little more eventful than it customarily manages to be'. For his part, he gives meaning to things most people would see as meaningless - a very useful talent (William Leith Evening Standard)
Funny, charming and slender enough to pack in your carry-on... (Daily Mail)
Simultaneously poignant and terribly funny ... de Botton's most imaginative work yet (Spectator)
He makes a fine fist of pondering transient life in Terminal 5. (The Times)
Shrewd, perceptive and gently ironic ... At de Botton's T5, banality and sublimity circle in a perpetual holding pattern (Boyd Tonkin Independent)
This is best read sitting in the afternoon sunlight with a glass of wine to add to the cumulative appreciation of this interesting and insightful book. (Canberra Times, Australia 2010-02-06)
Alain de Botton's amusing, small book should not be missed by people of the Third Age ... it's jolly, perceptive and human (Adelaide Review, Australia 2010-02-01)
I read Alain de Botton's A Week at the Airport with smiles of recognition, nods of approval and sighs of admiration. Most people can't wait to get away from airports. I'm very glad he stayed. (Michael Palin Guardian)
An uplifting and unique journey through the days and nights of the UK's largest airportSee all Product description
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As Heathrow's first-ever writer-in-residence, from his desk in Terminal 5, as well as his wanderings around the airport, de Botton takes us on a journey, physical and mentally, into the airport and what it, and travel, says about us. As someone to whom airports have an attraction [partially the fact, as de Botton writes, that it feels as if any exotic destination is within reach:] I was constantly engaged and entertained by his keen observations and analysis on subjects ranging from why we travel to our often-felt disappointment with holidays to the farewelling and greeting of travellers to the staff who keep things running, and much, much else. This is truly a most wondrous examination and one that re-introduced to me the wonder of one aspect of modern society that I often take for granted and do not stop to consider.
If this appeals I'd also highly recommend his book The Art of Travel; I saw the DVD in an ABC store the other day and snatched it up -- I was unaware there had been a series: looking forward to watching it.
De Botton looks at a variety of areas of the airport and focuses both on operational things as well as the people who work at and/or use the airport.
So why only 3 stars? Several reasons - the book was too short - I was left unsatisfied, wanting more. As an airport lover, I also found that there wasn't enough about the airport itself for my interest. Comparing it to the admittedly fictional book "Air Babylon", I thought Air Babylon was much more entertaining.
I'm probably a little unusual in that I love airports and attempt to arrive much earlier than is really necessary so I can get airside as soon as possible and begin to immerse myself in the world of the terminal. I've never been to terminal 5 but the world that de Botton describes could be any large airport terminal; it feels very familiar.
I loved de Botton's perceptive writing and his incisive and insightful look at the lifeblood of the airport. The book is funny, interesting and very engaging. He meets a variety of people and captures their essence in a few short words; impressive observational writing. The photographs by Richard Baker make the book and it wouldn't be as good or feel as complete without them.
This little book is thoroughly enjoyable for the high quality writing and high quality photography. It's one of my favourite books read this year and I'll be getting The Art of Travel soon!
A Week at the Airport is a short and compact book ("Slender enough to pack in your carry-on", Daily Mail). It can be considered an addendum of sorts of his previous book, The Art of Travel (from which one learns that de Botton is a home bird, really; see my separate review).
I've always liked Alain de Botton's use of illustrations and imagery interspersed with his narratives. In this case, Richard Baker adds wonderful value with his insightful photographs.
A Week at the Airport is just that -- the chief executive of BAA granted the author unrestricted access throughout the world's busiest airport, Heathrow.
"In such lack of constraints, I felt myself to be benefitting from a tradition wherein the wealthy merchant enters into a relationship with an artist fully prepared for him to behave like an outlaw; he does not expect good manners, he knows and is half delighted by the idea that the favoured baboon will smash his crockery."
Thankfully de Botton does behave himself and doesn't offend the airport staff, or perhaps more importantly, the security folk at the Border Agency.
The book is divided into four sections, reflecting the main dimensions of our airport experience -- Approach, Departures, Airside and Arrivals.
I like de Botton's philosophical insights into the otherwise mundane, or at least those aspects of daily life that we usually don't think twice about.
For example, airport hotels. Even with their poetic menus, which de Botton does his best to elevate, an airport hotel is functionary; unlike their countryside siblings, you don't select an airport hotel for its environmental surroundings.
Though there's no harm in trying to appeal to aesthetic beauty. Terminal 5 "wanted to have a go" at replicating the experience of arriving at Jerusalem's elaborate Jaffa Gate, to welcome those who have travelled great distances to the promise and prospect of a new country.
But baggage retrieval and finding your car in the parking lot (or silent taxi transfer) quickly erases such euphoria.
de Botton's strength is inserting the human condition in every aspect of life. Lest you think he doesn't really recommend airport travel, de Botton is an unfailing romantic (and thankfully so). When he describes our human encounters -- in this case with hotel staff, fellow passengers, border control agents, and those we're departing and reuniting with -- de Botton evokes the universality of our existence. At least those of us who have ever experienced airports.
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