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A desultory meditation, by turns erudite and sardonic De Botton uses the examples of ten occupations as entry points into associative digressions, but he never gives the workers themselves any voice While this oversight limits the scope of what he can accomplish in a work that he himself commends to his readers as reportage, the altar of self conscious melancholy whereupon the Other is sacrificed proves worthy of contemplation.And now, a digression of my own De Botton notes that he gave a lecture at California State University, Bakersfield, and that the lecture was notable for its near unanimous absence of attendees This observation neither surprises me nor strikes me as dishonest because I am, regrettably, from Bakersfield and, regrettably, well acquainted with what constitutes its milieu if courting Sarah Palin to speak at conferences, MONSTER TRUCK PANDEMONIUM THIS SATURDAY SATURDAY SATURDAY , and a fast food chain restaurant on every corner can even be said to qualify as a milieu What does surprise and strike me as dishonest is that De Botton then claims to get lost when he leaves Bakersfield Seriously There re basically two ways into this shit city Granted, they pretty much look the same, what with their low desert scrub and billboards promising a better life in the military however, if you ve mistaken them for something else, I gotta say that you ve seriously underestimated the gravity of your situation and I, therefore, question your intelligence and the veracity thereof Now, my problem with his claim is that he ends up in nearby Mojave as a result, where he is summarily cussed by a native THAT I buy And, frankly, I m cool with it because De Botton has shown himself to be a tourist that is too clever by half. I picked this up because I heard the author speak on a couple public radio shows and he seemed interesting I ve also always struggled with the ideas of work and vocation i.e I imagine that if I had the latter, the former wouldn t be so frustrating , so I was actually very excited to read an examination of the pleasures and sorrows of work Unfortunately, this book is less an examination and a set of witty but disorganized notes from a handful of trips to different workplaces He doesn t even begin to state the purpose of the book until about 70 pages in, when you learn he s somewhat concerned about the dilution of meaning in a specialized workforce Up until then, it s mostly just ruminations on the magnitude of the shipping industry or the absurdity of cookie marketing, and this continues throughout, seasoned with amusing turns of phrase, notes on his personal travails, and the occasional absurd and completely unexplored assertion, like It is the high minded i.e idealistic, un capitalist countries that have let their members starve Funny stuff, occasionally intriuging, but unfulfilling Where s the history Where s the hypothesizing on root causes Who s actually happy at work and why I think the most telling fault is the near complete lack of anyone s voice but the author s Almost no sign of workers speaking for themselves, in their own words, despite the obvious fact that he talked to many, many people Botton seems much interested in his own disjointed mental peregrinations than in how his research subjects actually think and feel about work, and about the role of work in the overall scope of human affairs. Damn This book just confirms my desire to have Alain de Botton as a friend What a smart, erudite, witty, unassuming mensch this guy is With a quirky curiosity that helps him take an interesting perspective on almost any subject he tackles His previous books shows his willingness to take on quite a variety of topics but, of all his books that I ve read thus far, the subject of work seems particularly well suited to his particular and prodigious talent The book consists of ten chapters, in each of which the author explores a specific job 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 Spotting2 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 Manufacture4 Career Counselling5 Rocket Science6 Painting7 Transmission Engineering8 Accountancy9 Entrepeneurship10 AviationThe 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 But de Botton s particular talent shines through most obviously in those chapters which appear superficially least promising You think to yourself how can anyone write about biscuit manufacturing, or accountancy, and be interesting Then you read the chapters in question, and re read them, and think how the hell did he do that This book is riveting No review can do it full justice You really do need to read it yourself It s certainly among the top five non fiction books I ve read in the past ten years. In July of 2009, Caleb Crain gave this book a negative review in The New York Times Though the review is well written and specific, it is not, on its own, enough to make me reject de Botton outright The fact that the author then sought out Crain s blog and posted the following comment, however, is quite another matterCaleb, you make it sound on your blog that your review is somehow a sane and fair assessment In my eyes, and all those who have read it with anything like impartiality, it is a review driven by an almost manic desire to bad mouth and perversely depreciate anything of value The accusations you level at me are simply extraordinary I genuinely hope that you will find yourself on the receiving end of such a daft review some time very soon so that you can grow up and start to take some responsibility for your work as a reviewer You have now killed my book in the United States, nothing short of that So that s two years of work down the drain in one miserable 900 word review You present yourself as nice in this blog so much talk about your boyfriend, the dog etc It s only fair for your readers nice people like Joe Linker and trusting souls like PAB to get a whiff that the truth may be complex I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude This would seem to make it quite clear that he is no than a spiteful, petulant child, incapable of assembling a coherent thought All of his accusations come by way of inane attacks which do nothing to defend the worth of de Botton or his book This is not how an intelligent, capable man writes, and this is not what a measured response to criticism looks like This is an embarrassment.Of course, the comment caused a significant bust up in the literary world, and was covered by various literary news sources Later, de Botton was interviewed about the comment, where he apologized and saidI never believed I would have to answer for my words before a large audience I had false believed sic that this was basically between him and meIndicating that he is the sort of man who is courteous in public, but in private, where he imagines he can get away with it, becomes an utter prat In short, it confirms everything Crain claimed about de Botton s confused and erratic sense of superiority, and As ever, it demonstrates that a bad writer does not require a critic in order to look bad on a public stage. [ Epub ] ☭ The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work ♡ 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 DestroyingAlong 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 From The Hardcover Edition
De Botton applies his self consciously philosophical style to exploring the how and why of a cross section of professions across the Western world Relying upon a mix of happenstance encounters and his own personal agenda , de Botton pursues his stated quest to attempt to createa hymn to the intelligence, peculiarity, beauty and horror of the modern workplace, and not, least, its extraordinary claim to be able to provide us with, alongside love, the principal source of life s meaning The book had a quiet and promising start De Botton respectfully, thoughtfully and sweetly details the passions of a group of ship spotters men who stand in harbors all day and watch and debate the merits of various ships He credits these gentlemen with inspiring this work Their passion reminded him of a childhood awe and an old fashioned sense of the wide eyed wonder at those who Sail the High Seas De Botton was struck by how often our admiration is channeled into socially accepted and admired aesthetic professions and delights painters, sculptors, actors, singers, poetry, etc , while these men, possessed of keen feeling and in depth knowledge of their chosen objects of love, have been able to see that beauty should not be so narrowly definedAt the end of a pier in Gravesend, five men are standing in the rain They are tracking a ship There is no practical reason for their scrutiny They are not in charge of preparing her berth for its next occupant or, like the staff at the nearby control tower, assigning her a shipping lane for the journey out to the North Sea They wish only to admire her and note her passage They bring to the study of harbor life a devotion often witnessed in relation to art, their behavior implying a belief that creativity and intelligence can be as present in the transport of axles around the tip of the western Sahara as they are in the use of impasto in a female nude Yet how fickle museum goers seem by comparison, with their impatient interest in cafeterias, their susceptibility to gift shops, their readiness to avail themselves of benches How seldom has a man spent two hours in a rain storm in front of Hendrickje Bathingwith only a thermos of coffee.Admittedly, the ship spotters do not respond to the objects of their enthusiasm with particular imagination They traffic in statistics Their energies are focused on logging dates and shipping speeds, recording turbine numbers and shaft lengths They behave like a man who has fallen deeply in love and asks his companion if he might act on his emotions by measuring the distance between her elbow and her shoulder blade But in converting a passion into a set of facts, the spotters are at least following a pattern with an established pedigree, most noticeable in academia, where an art historian, on being stirred to tears by the tenderness and serenity he detects in a work by a fourteenth century Florentine painter, may end up writing a monograph, as irreproachable as it is bloodless, on the history of paint manufacture in the age of Giotto This lovely opening statement seemed to promise a book full of such encounters, with de Botton seeking out and discovering people with similarly overlooked passions There were three other chapters that did just that However, I discount one, as it is about a working painter, one of the professions that has been deified and declared divine Therefore, I didn t think that it particularly belonged in this book s brief of giving the stage to unsung workhorses The other was a simply told and delicately considered story of a man named Ian, who was a member of the Pylon Appreciation Society De Botton takes a long walk with Ian along an electricity line running from the Channel coast to the edge of London, following the pylons that will deliver electricity to Trafalgar Square It was a surprisingly affecting to discover this small, but apparently international and dedicated, hobby There are apparently even books on the subject, such as one striking Dutch publication whichwas a defense on the contribution of transmission engineering to the visual appeal of Holland, referencing the often ignored grandeur of the towers on their march from power stations to cities It s particular interest for Ian lay in its thesis about the history of the Dutch relationship to windmills, for it emphasized that these early industrial objects had originally been felt to have all the pylons alien, threatening qualities, rather than the air of enchantment and playfulness now routinely associated with them They had been denounced from pulpits and occasionally burned to the ground by suspicious villagers The re evaluation of the windmills had in large part been the work of the great painters of the Dutch Golden Age, who, moved by their country s dependence on these rotating utilitarian objects, gave them pride of place int heir canvases, taking care to throw their finest aspects into relief, like their resilience during storms and the glint of their sails in the late afternoon sunperhaps it would be left to the artists of our own day to teach us to discern the virtues of the furniture of contemporary technology He hoped that photographs of pylons might in the future hang over dining tables and that someone, one day, might write a libretto for an opera set along the grid The second chapter that tried very hard to instill some sense of wonder was the one about rocket science, where de Botton travels to French Guinea to witness the launching of a satellite that will broadcast for a Japanese television company The chapter does a lot of look how far we ve come , in juxtaposing the primitive jungle that surrounds the rocket launching site and the nearby native peoples that still worship trees and rocks However, it also mourns the loss of the great advance made by a single man, now lost in the small contributions of teams of scientists to incredibly specific problems that, if successful, only a few people will ever know about In the end, however, his sense of awe is overcome by a sense that we have come to worship ourselves That is, that old horse that God is Dead and science has replaced it in an unsatisfying way, because to some extent humans are now gods I must say that other chapters were also similarly handicapped by this occasional dated, Freudian, white male preoccupations with things like sublimated desire aviation , a weird digression into the purpose of sexual harrassment policies sparked by de Botton s interest in a beautiful lady at one place he visits accountancy , or a Mad Men esque Man in the Flannel Grey Suit obsession with some stereotypical squeezing out of life that happens to the worker bee in the middle of the food chain I took these as yet another example of his permanent pose as an 18th century Man of Letters, as well as the generational and gender gap between him and myself on that below.The rest of the book was spent on professions that the author clearly had to talk himself into admiring in some way The opening section was a long disquisition on a British biscuit manufacturer, packed with musings on the subliminal desires tapped by advertising slogans used for dessert snacks and one amusing short anecdote about a middle level manager that de Botton suddenly bombarded with questions about the deeper meaning of her work and what kind of satisfaction she finds in it while she was in the middle of a spreadsheet.These chapters were less about passion and about providing a depiction of a day in the life of these people, and creating a sense of communal experience with them That is, letting us see that other people s lives are generally as mundane as our own, despite the money or status generated by their profession De Botton makes some effort to point out the special surrealities of each profession and, through invocational, hypnotic and somewhat poetic recitations of breakfast choices and trains, to induce some sense of recognition or respect However, this approach is less inspiring and somewhat repetitive It also draws a hard, bright line under the fact that he is exploring professions that are largely reserved for the educated, somewhat middle to upper class people who are likely to read this book There are approximately three pages where he contrasts the fate of a waiter in an executive boardroom and an executive himself, but it feels shoehorned in for lack of anything interesting to say about accountants It also draws the reader s attention to a huge chunk of professions those that are labor of the body and less labor of the mind focused though of course not necessarily so and just on the surface that were overlooked It makes the whole exercise seem even of a snobbish, abstracted and rarefied not in a good way thing than I think de Botton meant it to be As a result, many of the pages flowed by in a highly unremarkable fashion, with under pursued moments and themes that were trite than they needed to be though expressed in de Botton s typically elegant and polished fashion.The final coda, which explores a graveyard of airplanes in the Mojave Desert, therefore ends up feeling overdetermined and under explored, a discourse on work as a distraction from death I am even a subscriber to the 18th century Ruienlust evoked here and I found it largely unmoving I think that in the hands of a writer who was less determined to create a saying and put his book in a Fine Tradition of Western Writers and interested in describing, making connections and illustrating, it could have been moving It smacked of wasted potential I hope that some other writer visits that graveyard and gives it the genuinely passionate treatment that it deserves.Finally, a note on style De Botton is clearly an admirer and imitator of the 18th century travelogue and Samuel Johnson style of witty aphorism and generalized saying I don t have a problem with that and sometimes, I admit, am drawn to it However There are things that can irritate a reader that result from it He frequently takes time out to muse on profound truths and make larger truths out of the specific Sometimes this can feel ham handed, and sometimes his insights are not particularly profound In addition, it can result in some wince worthy metaphorsalmost all of the exhibitors at the fair were destined to throw themselves at the cliff face of entrepreneurial achievement and fall flatouch I still feel that Status Anxiety is Botton s best book If only because I think that most of his books and ideas are, at their core, about status and expectations in some way or another, so I think it makes sense that he understands that the best Nonetheless, I think that this book can be worth reading if you are experiencing professional dissatisfaction if only for giving you a sense that everyone else is too and the grass is not always greener , or if you too found the story of the ship spotters and the electricity pylon admirers as affecting as I did. Having enjoyed a few of Botton s other books, I was keen to pick up his latest The overarching theme of all of his work is an examination of the values of modern life that often go unquestioned.It makes sense, then, to focus on work, but this book does not live up to the promise of its title It is probably his least focused A appropriate but still hubristic title would be The Pleasures and Sorrows of Modern Life The business surrounding work receives at least as much attention, if not so, than the notion of work.He has received criticism from some reviewers about writing about working class toil as he is the son of an extremely wealthy Swiss financier although he elects to live off the earnings of his writing Most thinkers throughout recorded history have come from a position of affluence so it is not a relevant criticism unless it affects their work, which it tends to here Some of his conversations with people in their workplace come across as aloof, inappropriate and arrogant.Botton writes with clarity and beauty and has some compelling and illuminating insights, but as with a disappointing undergraduate essay, if you don t address the topic, you don t get a good mark. I found de Botton s voice condescending and arrogant He refers to women as symbols one too many times for me just because a woman is attractive doesn t mean that she can t be an effective salesperson independently of her looks Beyond the misogyny, I doubt de Botton s ever had a real job in his life, and his quest to learn about the world of work seems like a way for him to look down on all of us working drones I read the book expecting to find out about the unique aspects of these people s lives and careers in rocket science, accounting, painting, electrical engineering wouldn t it be interesting to know what the daily routines of a rocket scientist are However, de Botton fills the book with overblown metaphors about the meaning of life and spends the rocket science chapter simultaneously poking fun at Japanese television and the desolate landscape of a poverty stricken South American country He watches a rocket launch in awe, then talks about how society has fallen prey to worshiping the false gods of science and technology over naturewhen mere pages later, in the electrical engineering chapter, he goes on a tour of electrical pylons and waxes poetic about the power and beauty of these giant machines, lamenting with his companion the inability of people to see beyond the traditional beauty of the natural landscape Which one is it, buddy Nature or science Ultimately, de Botton makes his reader most of whom likely have jobs that aren t fulfilling in this sense of purpose he seems to equate with a meaningful life feel inadequate and depressed, as though spending a life working for a living equates to wasting your talents in a soul sucking vacuum of misery and stupidity Too bad we can t all spend our days traveling the country, gaining people s trust and then judging them, write a book about it and consider ourselves some kind of expert I read non fiction to learn new things This book taught me one thing never to read another book by de Botton. 330 Pressed upon me by the unsuspecting morning mailman I marvelled at how little did he wonder that within the contents of my parcel an author could be about to unpack all the futility of his public service endeavours de Botton s latest fetched up, with it s newly minted, freshly printed, straight from the creative oven aroma and literally spine breakingly creaking with words.One subject at a time de Botton is gradually unpicking the stitching of the modern age On the heels of travel, architecture, and our anxieties about status, work makes the perfect topic after all, all of us use buildings but few of us seem bothered enough to form an opinion about them not so work Thanks to bourgeois s and the need for a stable workforce we have all been conditioned with an expectation of locating happiness in our working lives along with love inside our marriages.So like the ship spotters who improbably manage to find beauty alongside the cargo docks that line the Thames and with admirable originality de Botton sets out to discover what might be meaningful in our daily toil amongst the artists, the accountants, the aeronautics industry And logistics sometimes refrigerated Someplace in the Midlands spectres haunting warehouse car parks night lit by hissing halogen street lamps load 10,000 pre packed prawn cocktail sandwiches together with out of season strawberries onto supermarket lorries The horror of homogenized lunchbox logistics contains a troubling truth an acknowledgement of our childish incapacity to defer our gratifications to the seasons.In a seductively silky patter de Botton occasionally lets slip a statement which, as much as we might all want to nod our heads, comes unbuttressed by any supporting argument, for example the causal relationship between a disenfranchised working class and binge drinking Perhaps a academic study would have found a place to deal with this in depth In the section devoted to the painter of the stretched canvas variety rather than a decorator he seems to disappointingly rely on a Romantic notion of the artist living in poverty and driven by tragedy without considering that many people working in the visual arts may find their jobs mundane on a daily basis.So nearing the time for clocking off, appropriately enough as Eliot s violet hour approached, it seemed proper to ask myself what had I learnt Implausibly that in our modern ageBiscuits are nowadays a branch of psychologyApparently Freud would have had a field day or at the very least a field trip no doubt out to the home of United Biscuits in Hayes described in deadpan prose assurprisinglydevoid of charm.If our present attitudes to work give any indication then we have reached the tepid teatime of our species an age in which our sweetmeats are advanced by sub commitees and subject to focus groups So much so that their very insubstantial pleasures seem in inverse proportion to the efforts of their planning Yet this state of affairs characterizes so many of our efforts As humans we add nothing to our previous achievements and we re doing it in triplicate, rubber stamped by hollow city suits sat in increasingly impersonal air conditioned environments It is with the determined risk aversion of the corporate accountant, the middle management bureaucrat, and the Health Safety officer that Man hedges ever closer towards extinction.