The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

In the past, philosophers were concerned about many facets of human activity and drew inspiration from subjects relating to existence, laws, emotions, love, truth and science. It should, therefore, come as a surprise that many of them ignored work as a subject for thought and criticism. For Alain de Botton, our job is forming a large part of our identity in our modern world. His latest book, “The pleasures and sorrows of work”, published by Penguin, is a testament to the joys and perils of the modern workplace, with an emphasis on jobs that are either taken for granted and are definitely not in the minds of university graduates. Thus, while anyone knows about the typical day in the work of a doctor, positions like a logistic workers have largely been neglected.

In the 10 chapters of the book, the author embarks upon a journey to describe a snapshot in the life of an accountant, a career counsellor, a painter and an aviation expert and the equally peculiar life of a cargo ship spotter, a rocket scientist, a biscuit manufacturer and a budding entrepreneur. Through logistics, we follow the trip of tuna from the Maldives coast, where it is captured and killed, to the dinner plate of a family in the UK, and through tracing a power line, we witness the journey of the transmission of electricity from a power plant in Kent to a substation in East London. The food in our plate or the power to use our appliances results from those activities, the orchestrated work of ten or thousands of people, that know little of each other, but nevertheless commit their time to a common cause.

The book is written with the unmistakable and imaginative style of de Botton, mixing the necessary with the superfluous and using every small detail as a vehicle for explanations of people’s ulterior motives and behaviours. While we have some reservations that the book is more of a voyeuristic description to weird and unusual professions that a philosophical manifesto of how we perceive our working environment, the book is very pleasant and easy to read.


P.S.: “The pleasures and sorrows of Work” costs £11.39 at Amazon or £60 for Monocle’s limited, signed edition. You may also see an interview of the author at one of Monocle’s Video Podcasts.

(book cover © Penguin books)


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