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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work Hardcover – June 2, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (June 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037542444X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424441
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Book Description
We spend most of our waking lives at work—in occupations often chosen by our unthinking younger selves. And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our occupations mean to us.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work is an exploration of the joys and perils of the modern workplace, beautifully evoking what other people wake up to do each day—and night—to make the frenzied contemporary world function. With a philosophical eye and his signature combination of wit and wisdom, Alain de Botton leads us on a journey around a deliberately eclectic range of occupations, from rocket science to biscuit manufacture, accountancy to art—in search of what make jobs either fulfilling or soul-destroying.

Along the way he tries to answer some of the most urgent questions we can ask about work: Why do we do it? What makes it pleasurable? What is its meaning? And why do we daily exhaust not only ourselves but also the planet? Characteristically lucid, witty and inventive, Alain de Botton’s “song for occupations” is a celebration and exploration of an aspect of life which is all too often ignored and a book that shines a revealing light on the essential meaning of work in our lives.


Alain de Botton on The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

I wrote The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work to shine a spotlight on the working world. I wanted to write a book that would open our eyes to the beauty and occasional horror of the working world—and I did this by looking at 10 different industries, a deliberately eclectic range from accountancy to engineering, from biscuit manufacture to logistics.

The strangest thing about the world of work is the widespread expectation that our work should make us happy. For thousands of years, work was viewed as something to be done with as rapidly as possible and escaped in the imagination through alcohol or religion. Aristotle was the first of many philosophers to state that no one could be both free and obliged to earn a living. A more optimistic assessment of work had to wait until the eighteenth century and men like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin, who for the first time argued that one's working life could be at the centre of any desire for happiness. It was during this century that our modern ideas about work were formed—at the very same time as our modern ideas about love and marriage took shape.

In the pre-modern age, it was assumed that no one could try to be in love and married: marriage was something one did for purely commercial reasons. Things were going well if you maintained a tepid friendship with your spouse. Meanwhile, love was something you did with your mistress, with pleasure untied to the responsibilities of child-rearing. Yet the new philosophers of love argued that one might actually aim to marry the person one was in love with rather than just have an affair. To this unusual idea was added the even more peculiar notion that one might work both for money and to realise one's dreams, an idea that replaced the previous assumption that the day job took care of the rent and anything more ambitious had to happen in one's spare time.

We are the heirs of these two very ambitious beliefs: that you can be in love and married, and in a job and having a good time. It has become as impossible for us to think that you could be out of work and happy as it had once seemed impossible for Aristotle to think that you could be employed and human. Thus is born The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. —Alain de Botton

(Photo © Roderick Field)

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This pensive study explores work not as an economic or sociological phenomenon but as an existential predicament. Observing an eclectic sample of workers, from fishermen to a CEO of an accounting firm, de Botton (How Proust Can Change Your Life) counterposes the expansive intelligence embodied in vast business organizations with the blinkered routines of their human cogs and finds that tension rife with philosophical conundrums. Cookie marketers illustrate the link between happiness and triviality in bourgeois society; office drones wear a mask of shallow cheerfulness over the fury and sadness continually aroused by their colleagues; a visit to a satellite launch center contrasts the restrained self-effacement of rocket scientists with their power to upstage the gods during fiery blastoffs. De Botton's humanism recoils at the banality, crassness and forced optimism of the business mindset, but he admires its ability to construct the world—and even finds poetry in a supermarket supply chain that flies blood-red strawberries... over the Arctic Circle by moonlight, leaving a trail of nitrous oxide across a black and gold sky. (The book includes evocative photos of commercial and industrial sites.) De Botton's sprightly mix of reportage and rumination expands beyond the workplace to investigate the broader meaning of life. (June 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Alain is the author of seven non-fiction books that look at the great questions of ordinary life - love, friendship, work, travel, home - in a way that is intellectually rigorous, therapeutic, amusing and always highly readable. His goal is to bring ideas back to where they belong: at the center of our lives.

Customer Reviews

This book was a pleasure to read and a sorrow to finish.
Albert Glenn Paul
While reading this book it was amazing to see how many people are not even aware of the choices they make with their own lives.
Thomas Haizlip
The quality of writing along with the insights provided makes this book a very readable one.
Yogesh Upadhyaya

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 75 people found the following review helpful By JG on June 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an enjoyable book that accurately captures the day-to-day aspects of everyday working life that most of us ignore as we go along our daily grind. Each chapter focuses on a different occupation from accountant to artist to cargo ship spotter and takes the reader through a day in the life of each profession all the while examining the pleasures and frustrations that each job entails. This book's greatest strengh (and at the same time the source of its biggest weakness) is that it's written from the perspective of a tourist who briefly visits a new occupation for a day and then moves on.

This tourist's eye view is a great strength because unlike the subjects he examines under his microscope De Botton is able to look at each occupation and see it with fresh eyes as a choice made by each person who picked that career from the countless other possibilities. Most of us entered our chosen field by way of decisions made when we were unthinking undergrads or teenagers looking for something to earn us a buck without really giving it much thought. Our careers chose us by paying well or being conveniently located to our homes, we didn't choose our careers. This pathology (and it is a pathology that stems from laziness) is wonderfully illustrated in the chapter devoted to accountancy by showcasing fresh faced recruits straight from college who bury themselves in the busy work of his job rather than examine why they are doing what they do for a living. This is that rare book that forces us to think about why we are devoting so much of our waking lives to do our jobs while we never invested nearly as much time into deciding which job to choose.
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138 of 149 people found the following review helpful By J. Brian Watkins VINE VOICE on June 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
De Botton is a gifted observer. His art is both to notice and meaningfully comment on facets of life too often glossed over; of beauty and elegance unappreciated. In prior works he has demonstrated the value of complex metaphysics, Proustian prose, architecture and travel--wonderful and engrossing works. However, this most recent volume strikes the tone of a mid-life crisis, of a focus on what is wrong rather than what is right; something not foreign to this frustrated attorney who would gladly trade places with a globe-trotting author. But perhaps that is the entire point of the work, we blithely judge the travails of another at our own peril.

As opposed to his prior books, Pleasures and Sorrows tends more to the discursive--it is more of a loosely related grouping of essays than a reasoned, methodical exploration of modern labors. I'm afraid that following a brilliant introduction and statement of thesis, the work lost its way in much the same manner as did the author when he attempted to travel from Bakersfield to Los Angeles yet manages to discover something noteworthy among the detritus of modern civilization. Nevertheless, even when he loses his way, his book retains the ability to force one to think about what makes effort rewarding, what makes life worth living; De Botton invites us to challenge our own assumptions.

Too often snarky and discourteous to his subjects, the author's evident frustration with modern life and reality needn't have been focused on the human subjects making their best navigation of a flawed world. There is a nobility in simply arriving home at the end of a day having secured the resources sufficient to meet one's needs.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David M. Giltinan on June 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Alain de Botton continues to charm in this exploration of questions related to work.

The book consists of ten chapters, in each of which the author explores a specific job type in depth. The text is augmented throughout with photographs by Richard Baker, about 15 per chapter. These serve as an excellent complement to de Botton's remarks and reinforce one of the book's major strengths, which is Alain de Botton's skill for anchoring his exploration of profound questions pertaining to work (what to do with one's life? how to combine earning money with attaining fulfilment? how to balance career and family obligations?) in intelligently chosen, concrete examples.

A listing of the ten chapters gives an idea of the wide-ranging and eclectic nature of his investigation:

1. Cargo Ship Spotting
2. Logistics (including a photo essay which follows the path of a tuna from its capture in a Maldives fishing boat to the supermarket shelf)
3. Biscuit Manufacture
4. Career Counselling
5. Rocket Science
6. Painting
7. Transmission Engineering
8. Accountancy
9. Entrepeneurship
10. Aviation

The list fails to convey the charm and subtlety of de Botton's writing - to appreciate those, you'll have to read the book yourself. In each chapter there is something to delight - the author's curiosity will make you think about commonplace things in a new way, and his thoughtfulness and erudition make him a charming tour guide. The chapter on "rocket science", centred around a trip to French Guiana to report on the launch of a French-made communications satellite commissioned by a Japanese TV station, is a tour de force of nonfiction writing.
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