Arts + Culture » Literary

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work Alain de Botton (M&S)

Alain de Botton tries to answer to a commonly asked question: What makes us happy and sad about/at our work?

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In each of these 10 essays, London-based writer Alain de Botton enters a different world of work, travelling locally and globally in pursuit of an answer to a commonly asked question: What makes us happy and sad about/at our work? In short, the occupation that keeps a person "appropriately alive to some of the most astonishing aspects of our time" leads to fulfillment, while those careers that keep us "ignorant...surrounded by machines and processes of which we only have the loosest grasp" cause discord. Those quoted phrases come from the first piece, "Cargo Ship Spotting," which details the activities of people who watch work being done. Besides theme, the essay orients readers to the point of view: observational rather than interactive (in that the author is not doing the work directly himself). Most of the essays work, especially "Biscuit Manufacture," which references Slough, the site of the original British series The Office, and "Career Counselling" (a lesson in futility). But overall, de Botton lacks the appropriate sense of humour required to complete such a project: you gotta be able to---to want to, perhaps---point and laugh at all this, the absurdities, the realities and even the victories. The author's humour is genteel to the point of distraction.

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