Customer Review

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Quirky Mishmash, October 16, 2009
This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I purchased this book at a small shop in Key West, FL. Perhaps I thought "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" would provide a trenchant view of the state of modern-day work or give a unique window on work experiences like Studs Terkel's groundbreaking book of oral histories "Working." Instead, it felt like Botton had lined up a set of unrelated excursions to work environments that were simply published in book form, lacking any coherency.

In each of the book's ten chapters (ranging from Cargo Shipping to Aviation), Bottton goes on site and takes us through the often hidden aspects of how an industry operates. One of the chapters, called Career Counseling, seems out of place and describes the practice of a struggling vocational counselor and motivational speaker. Part of the incoherence of the book is how this chapter just seems tossed in.

Botton is a perceptive person and a skilled writer. He often heightens the enjoyment of reading about rather dull enterprises with his philosophical observations. He did some extensive research, such as in the chapter on Logistics where he literally follows the journey of a tuna from the sea to a boy's dinner plate, describing the complex processes along the way. But for a book on the pleasures and sorrows of work, Botton seldom provides any in-depth material from those working in these industries. Instead, he gives us his observations of how these businesses operate and what he imagines people are experiencing.

I enjoyed most the chapter on Accountancy when Botton spent time at the sleek, modern London headquarters of the Ernst & Young accounting firm. Typical of Botton's wry observations is this one about one of the employees: "She had a business card which she hands over in meetings and which tells other people--and more meaningfully perhaps, reminds her--that she is a Business Unit Senior Manager, rather than a vaporous transient consciousness in an incidental universe."

For all that you learn about obscure industries and for all of Botton's wit, this book is still a hodepodge. One wonders if Botton had written a book on the joys and sorrows of marriage, for example, if he would have hung out at a few dinner parties and then strung his observations along in book form, much as he did here.
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