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143 of 154 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Erudite Mid-Life Crisis, June 4, 2009
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This review is from: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hardcover)
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. Somebody has to make the nasty biscuits and somebody has to count the silverware--I had hoped, rather, for De Botton to find more of the magic in the mundane, to use his gift of expression to elevate rather than to deride.

But by the time I finished the work, I sensed that the author has let his own despair seep into the work. In a modern world utterly unsuited for the kind of artistic expression that he loves and has so admirably set forth in his prior books, perhaps De Botton has unintentionally opened himself to his readers and has allowed us to feel some of the sorrow in the work of the author and philosopher who sees so much beauty in the world that goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Here's hoping that for his next book we can focus more on the pleasures and less upon the sorrows.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 7, 2009 11:50:37 AM PDT
S. Miller says:
Wow, elegant review. I believe you can trade places with De Botton and become the globe-trotting author if you so desire.

Cheers,

S Miller

Posted on Aug 25, 2009 11:04:31 AM PDT
I also sensed some of De Botton's yearnings for beauty and meaning, but unlike the reviewer I felt ultimately a great regard on De Botton's part for the workers who persevere in the face of the silly and mundane, and/or who find their own sense of purpose, beauty or pride in what they do. To me this IS the magic of the work world. De Botton chose jobs that exemplify our larger culture and economic system and what holds them together, and at the same time exposed conundrums of the human condition that work for AND against our being able to find pleasure in our work. As it broadened my world-view, I felt the book to be uplifting. De Botton's insights made me appreciate how judgmental we can sometimes be about others' work, and also how many invisible threads connect our own particular work worlds' with others'.

Posted on Jan 12, 2010 3:21:33 PM PST
Seems to me that the reviewer wanted a different book, and failed to appreciate what De Botton's book did accomplish. I'm more interested in reading it now, to see if I agree that it is snarky. The second sentence in the second paragraph is incoherent and one is not sure exactly what the reviewer is saying - about a previous book? A previous trip? Not as helpful as many seem to think, IMHO.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2010 6:25:28 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 28, 2010 6:27:09 PM PST
I think Words is right in that this reviewer expected a different book. However, I certainly appreciated and enjoyed this book. I hope that Words does actually purchase and read the book because even though I felt that Mr. De Botton has stronger works, all his books are wonderful; he is possessed of a brilliantly wry perspective and has an honored place in my library.

Posted on May 3, 2011 8:03:59 AM PDT
Jasoturner says:
This is an extremely astute review. Well done indeed.

Posted on Oct 2, 2011 7:06:06 PM PDT
Book Inhaler says:
I concur completely with this review. I left the book not thinking there were pleasures whatsoever in work; in fact, the author left me feeling vaguely unhappy in a 'what's the use?' fashion. Observant, yes. But his choices for observing were in some ways quite odd . . . and no one was happy, anywhere, and I wonder at that.

Posted on Feb 28, 2013 7:56:52 AM PST
I particularly respect the reviewer's statement that "There is a nobility in simply arriving home at the end of a day having secured the resources sufficient to meet one's needs." Much of a working life is simply a matter of sheer endurance in the midst of multiple frustrations. This may be more true than ever as work increasingly is a group effort in which individual achievement is made indistinct.

Posted on Jun 24, 2013 10:53:42 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 24, 2013 11:12:12 AM PDT
Though I still intend to read this book, I loved the third paragraph of this review and just want you to know that. "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. Somebody has to make the nasty biscuits and somebody has to count the silverware--I had hoped, rather, for De Botton to find more of the magic in the mundane, to use his gift of expression to elevate rather than to deride." Thank you for this elegant paragraph whether you caught the author's meaning or not (and I don't know if you did) - I'll be reading the book anyway. I relate with and know so many nasty biscuit makers afterall. And many of us feel the jobs stealing our substance rather than making us feel fulfilled. Attitudes toward us nasty bisquit makers only adds insult to injury. But thoughtful writings feed our inner dignity.

I heard this author's talk on Ted Talks which has motivated my desire to read the book regardless of the reviews.
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