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on 8 May 2009
As always with books by Alain de Botton, this book was extremely readable (in fact, it is not such a long book as it might look, because there are a lot of photographs, and he does describe the book as a photographic essay). It is full of interesting insights into work, and how important and unimportant it is in our lives. Very relevant for those of us who don't earn zillions of dollars and who want to find justification, pleasure, and status in work beyond the need to bring in an income.

One extremely small tick which is that the author describes a visit to an airfield for derelict planes as spontaneous, a result of his own ineptitude, so it must have been quite a coincidence that he had the photographer along with him.

Nevertheless, an excellent book.
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on 19 November 2010
This is a great book, well written and thoughtful. Alain raises points that have certainly gone through my mind at various times. What I found good about Alain's book is that he manages to take all of these points, discuss them, bond them and cohere them into a meaningful observation on modern day working life. It is compelling reading if you work for a large organisation.

I should explain maybe that I'm a professional engineer, so maybe see some of his points from a different perspective to other potential readers. I've lent the book to my dad now (retired, used to work as a finance auditor for the Council) and he's reading it avidly too - and he NEVER reads books!

Hope this review is useful to you.
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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 25 January 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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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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on 20 May 2009
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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on 29 December 2014
While at times an interesting and thought-provoking read, I struggled throughout to understand how the title of the book related to a lot of the wandering experiences and thoughts undertaken by de Botton. I wasn't quite sure, for example, why I needed to know that a waiter who only warranted a few references had to return to Brasil, or exactly how the photos that made up 50% of the book were adding to the experience. The picture of the urinals didn't make me think any more deeply about the value trade shows. That said, this was a quick and enjoyable read. If you're looking for great insights into 'The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work', I'm not sure this is this the book to provide them.
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on 12 June 2010
Easily Alain De Botton's best book so far, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work is a collection of essays examining the minutiae of work and the satisfaction - or otherwise - it brings to each of us. De Botton starts with a detailed look at logistics; how the things we consume come to be, and how they get to us. He revels in the majesty of an unsung industry and challenges the reader to pause for a moment 'the next time one is confronted by an object that has been transported mysteriously and at an implausible speed halfway round the planet.'

The book goes on to look at an eclectic mix of workplaces; everything from a Belgian biscuit factory, to an aviation trade fair, to a guy who runs the pylon appreciation society. Alongside probing questions as to why each profession should exist, the common thread throughout the book is our relationship with work - why we do it, the challenges / benefits of endless professional specialisation, and what purpose can be found in our lives from what we do. Along the way De Botton joins us in realising his own obsessions, weaknesses and failures in the profession he has chosen, yet at the same time he helps the reader to define for themselves the meaning of what it is that they do.

Throughout, De Botton mixes an intellectual - yet accessible - approach with laugh out loud humour. My favourite line coming late in the photo essay that has traced a tuna from being caught in the Maldives all the way through to it's purchase from Sainsbury's fish counter; "... [she] stops and picks up some tuna steaks for her family's supper. The photographer and I stand up and explain our story. We tell her about our journey and about Karl Marx's theory of alienation as defined in his economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844. We ask if we might follow her home. She calls her husband for a second opinion."
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on 8 May 2009
Work occupies an awful lot of out waking hours, but it has not been a preoccupation of philosophers in the same way that morals or politics have. So publications by philosophers that are unequivocally concerned with work are to be welcomed by any student of the workplace.

De Botton's book comes hot on the heels of Lars Svendsen's 'Work';Work (Art of Living) their approaches are, however very different. Where Svendsen looks for the meaning in work by using a blend of scholarship and personal experience, de Botton, by contrast, takes us on a tourist's journey through modern industry to get at work's philosophical significance. To help our journey along the book is punctuated by photographs. The use of which, along with the very descriptive language (similes come thick and fast), has the feeling of being taken through the `round window' to observe the hitherto hidden production of some everyday product.

The journey is an enjoyable one and some of the characters and situations encountered are charming. The transmission engineer who spends his spare time walking the routes of high voltage cables and extolling the aesthetic virtues of pylons is the sort of enthusiast one can't help but secretly admire, as is the painter who repeatedly paints the same tree. Their experiences are clearly pleasure. Others promote feelings of pathos. There is the chairman of an accountancy firm who, like so many captains of industry, communicates by using a, self reassuring, business related cousin of the English language and the lawyer still looking for her calling; a notion that torments many of our work lives. These are the sorrows.

When de Botton offers insight over description, like Svendsen, meaning is the matter that concerns him. The efficiency of the division of labour is juxtaposed with the innate desire to produce `delight or reduce suffering in others.' Even the frivolous activity of marketing has its benefits in sustaining employment. Marketing is then meaningful in that it is a heroic battle for survival.

Unlike for Svendsen, discontent is not the main outcome of modern work. An unrealistic striving for success does pervade our minds (entrepreneurs characterize this struggle), but work serves another need. The waste of the spirit is a danger, but the benefit of filling an innate need for activity and escape are work's real meaning.

Work provides a narrative through which we can live without the complications and diverse possibilities of life. Options are reduced to a mere handful of choices; the accountants of chapter eight personify this `peace with oblivion'. It is a choice accepted by any number of workers who willingly become absorbed in the moment of their work. The long-term, unconsidered, outcome of their efforts is likely to be the same as the Ozymandias like ruins of aircraft described in the final chapter: their work over, their purpose served, their significance slowing fading away in the desert.

This book has the feeling of travel writing, but the philosophical insights are there and delivered pleasurably. If work puzzles you read it. If work really puzzles you read it in tandem with Lars Svendsen's book. You'll almost certainly still be puzzled at the way we spend our days, but at least you will have viewed all the activity from a few more angles.
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on 14 January 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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