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on 27 January 2017
I have read most of de Botton’s books, and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work took me the longest to finish, partly because I am a slow reader, but I blame more on the editing. The chapters are his brief immersions in ten jobs, across the professions.

While absorbing his philosophical reflections was at times illuminating, often his presentations was one of the mundaneness of it all.

Yes, work can be mundane. But for many (if not most), it provides an important sense of worth.

de Botton didn’t ask workers what they enjoy about their work, if they derived any pleasure, even if only social.

Because most work brings people together — colleagues we call them — and for some the proverbial water cooler gossip or post-day pint makes the toil bearable.

Indeed, I would have liked to learn de Botton’s thoughts on the increasing remoteness of work — hot desking, meetings in coffee shops, virtual meetings via Skype calls.

Here, the first two chapters — on cargo shipping and logistics — speak to the physical dimension of our consumption.

But they also provide scope to ponder about how we make those purchases, frequently from our beds tapping an iPad rather than a journey to a town centre.

de Botton serendipitously finds himself in a graveyard of jumbo planes, and he uses the metaphor fittingly to conclude the chapter and the book.

Perhaps this was his intention all along — to make the reader endure the tedium, to learn that our jobs are just ‘matchstick protests’ in the wave of life.
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on 12 January 2017
This is now the 5th book of his I've read and although I wouldn't say it's his best (The Consolations Of Philosophy is incredible!), I still really enjoyed this book. His writing style is so enjoyable to read, and I love the pictures scattered throughout.

His ability to paint a beautiful picture from the most mundane and ordinary of settings is an ability few other authors possess. He delves into the most obscure of professions (he visits a biscuit manufacturer for example!) but is able to relate it back to the feelings of every day life. It's as if the professions he's chosen to investigate really don't matter: it's more about the bigger picture of what work means to us as a society, how simple things can have such a large impact, and how work effects the people inside.
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VINE VOICEon 19 April 2010
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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 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.
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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
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on 4 December 2013
This is the first book by Alain de Boton that I have read and I, while I enjoyed it, it presents some challenges to the reader. It appears to be a loosely related collection of essays embellished by black and white photographs. The photographs aren't necessary to help the reader's understanding but they are enjoyable and the book is better for their inclusion. The essays meander haphazardly over different subjects without painting a big-picture of any description. The author makes some very good points but they do not assemble into a coherent whole; that job is left up to the reader. It's a thought-provoking book and I should probably read it again - I'm pretty sure it will create more of an impression at a second sitting.
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on 6 April 2018
Not sure about this one. A bit long winded for me.
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on 25 June 2014
It's a nice piece of work but shows to much evidence of someone who's taken a cursory glance at someone else's story, vaguely picking up on what their lives are like and then leave unfortunately judgmental views and reading into people's lives the very private thoughts he can't possibly begin to know.
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on 12 January 2018
thought provoking
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on 8 September 2012
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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