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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work  - Alain de Botton

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

Paperback

Published: 25th May 2010
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Why do so many of us love or hate our work?
How has it come to dominate our lives?
And what should we do about it?

Work makes us. Without it we are at a loss; in work we hope to have a measure of control over our lives. Yet for many of us, work is a straitjacket from which we cannot free ourselves.

Criss-crossing the world to visit workplaces and workers both ordinary and extraordinary, and drawing on the wit and wisdom of great artists, writers and thinkers, Alain de Botton here explores our love-hate relationship with our jobs. He poses and answers little and big questions: from what should I do with my life? to what will I have achieved when I retire?

The Pleasure and Sorrows of Work will not only explain why it is we do what we do all day, but its sympathy, humour and insight seeks to help us make the most of it.

'De Botton's wit and powers of ironic observation are on display throughout what is a stylish and original book. The workplace brings out the best in his writing' Sunday Times

'Terribly funny, touches us all' Daily Mail

'Brilliant, enormously engaging' Guardian

Extract

1.

Imagine a journey across one of the great cities of the modern world. Take London on a particularly grey Monday at the end of October. Fly over its distribution centres, reservoirs, parks and mortuaries. Consider its criminals and South Korean tourists. See the sandwich-making plant at Park Royal, the airline contract-catering facility in Hounslow, the DHL delivery depot in Battersea, the Gulfstreams at City airport and the cleaning trolleys in the Holiday Inn Express on Smuggler's Way. Listen to the screaming in the refectory of Southwark Park primary school and the silenced guns at the Imperial War Museum. Think of driving instructors, meter readers and hesitant adulterers. Stand in the maternity ward of St Mary's Hospital. Watch Aashritha, three and a half months too early for existence, enmeshed in rubes, sleeping in a plastic box manufactured in the Swiss Canton of Obwalden. Look into the State Room on the west side of Buckingham Palace. Admire the Queen, having lunch with two hundred disabled athletes, then over coffee, making a speech in praise of determination. In Parliament, follow the government minister introducing a bill regulating the height of electrical sockets in public buildings.

Consider the trustees of the National Gallery voting to acquire a painting by the eighteenth-century Italian artist Giovanni Panini. Scan the faces of the prospective Father Christmases being interviewed in the basement of Selfridges in Oxford Street and wonder at the diction of the Hungarian psychoanalyst delivering a lecture on paranoia and breastfeeding at the Freud Museum in Hampstead.

Meanwhile, at the capital's eastern edges, another event is occurring which will leave no trace in the public mind or attract attention from anyone beyond its immediate participants, but which is no less worthy of record for that. The Goddess of the Sea is making her way to the Port of London from Asia. Built a decade earlier by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagasaki, she is 390 metres long, painted orange and grey and wears her name defiantly, for she makes little attempt to evoke any of the qualities of grace and beauty for which goddesses are traditionally famed, being instead squat and 80,000 tonnes in weight, with a stern that bulges like an overstuffed cushion and a hold stacked high with more than a thousand variously-coloured steel containers full of cargo, whose origins range from the factories of the Kobe corridor to the groves of the Atlas Mountains.

This leviathan is headed not for the better-known bits of the river, where tourists buy ice-creams to the smell of diesel engines, but to a place where the waters are coloured a dirty brown and the banks are gnawed by jetties and warehouses - an industrial zone which few of the capital's inhabitants penetrate, though the ordered running of their lives and, not least, their supplies of Tango fizzy orange and cement aggregate depend on its complex operations.

Our ship reached the English Channel late the previous evening and followed the arc of the Kent coastline to a point a few miles north of Margate, where, at dawn, she began the final phase of her journey up the lower Thames, a haunted-looking setting evocative both of the primeval past and of a dystopian future, a place where one half expects that a brontosaurus might emerge from behind the shell of a burnt-out car factory.

The river's ostensibly generous width in fact offers but a single, narrow navigable channel. Used to having hundreds of metres of water to play with, the ship now advances gingerly, like a proud creature of the wild confined to a zoo enclosure, her sonar letting out a steady sequence of coy beeps. Up on the bridge, the Malaysian captain scans a nautical chart, which delineates every underwater ridge and bank from Canvey Island to Richmond, while the surrounding landscape, even where it is densest with monuments and civic buildings, looks like the 'terra incognita' marked on the charts of early explorers. On either side of the ship, the river swirls with plastic bottles, feathers, cork, sea-smoothed planks, felt-tip pens and faded toys.

The Goddess docks at Tilbury container terminal at just after eleven. Given the trials she has undergone, she might have expected to be met by a minor dignitary or a choir singing 'Exultate, jubilate'. But there is a welcome only from a foreman, who hands a Filipino crew member a sheaf of customs forms and disappears without asking what dawn looked like over the Malacca Straits or whether there were porpoises off Sri Lanka.

The ship's course alone is impressive. Three weeks earlier she set off from Yokohama and since then she has called in at Yokkaichi, Shenzhen, Mumbai, Istanbul, Casablanca and Rotterdam. Only days before, as a dull rain fell on the sheds of Tilbury, she began her ascent up the Red Sea under a relentless sun, circled by a family of storks from Djibouti. The steel cranes now moving over her hull break up a miscellaneous cargo of fan ovens, running shoes, calculators, fluorescent bulbs, cashew nuts and vividly coloured toy animals. Her boxes of Moroccan lemons will end up on the shelves of central London shops by evening. There will be new television sets in York at dawn.

Not that many consumers care to dwell on where their fruit has come from, much less where their shirts have been made or who fashioned the rings which connect their shower hose to the basin. The origins and travels of our purchases remain matters of indifference, although - to the more imaginative at least - a slight dampness at the bottom of a carton, or an obscure code printed along a computer cable, may hint at processes of manufacture and transport nobler and more mysterious, more worthy of wonder and study, than the very goods themselves
Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1969 and now lives in London. He is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a 'philosophy of everyday life. He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries. Alain also started and helps to run a school in London called The School of Life, dedicated to a new vision of education. Alain’s newest book is published in April 2009 and is titled The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.

Alain started writing at a young age. His first book, Essays in Love [titled On Love in the US], was published when he was twenty-three. It minutely analysed the process of falling in and out of love, in a style that mixed elements of a novel together with reflections and analyses normally found in a piece of non-fiction. It's a book of which many readers are still fondest and it has sold two million copies worldwide.

It was with How Proust can change your Life that Alain's work reached a truly global audience. The book was a particular success in the United States, where the mixture of an ironic 'self-help' envelope and an analysis of one of the most revered but unread books in the Western canon struck a chord. It was followed by The Consolations of Philosophy, to which it was in many ways an accompaniment. Though sometimes described as popularisations, these two books were at heart attempts to develop original ideas (about, for example, friendship, art, envy, desire and inadequacy) with the help of the thoughts from other thinkers – an approach that would have been familiar to writers like Seneca or Montaigne and that disappeared only with the growing professionalisation of scholarship in the 19th century.

Alain then returned to a more lyrical, personal style of writing. In The Art of Travel, he looked at themes in the psychology of travel: how we imagine places before we have seen them, how we remember beautiful things, what happens to us when we look at deserts, or stay in hotels or go to the countryside. In Status Anxiety, he examined an almost universal anxiety that is rarely mentioned directly: the anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we're judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain discussed questions of beauty and ugliness in architecture. Much of the book was written at de Botton's home in West London, just near Shepherd's Bush roundabout, one of the uglier man-made places, which nevertheless provided helpful examples of how important it is to get architecture right.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work saw Alain travelling across the world for two years with a photographer in tow, looking at people in their workplaces and reflecting on the great themes of work: why do we do it? How can it be more bearable? What is a meaningful life? The book is at once lyrical and gripping like a novel can be, and yet also packed with ideas and analysis.

In the summer of 2009, Alain was appointed Heathrow's first Writer-in-Residence and wrote a book about his experiences, A Week at the Airport

Aside from writing, de Botton has been involved in making a number of television documentaries - and now helps to run a production company, Seneca Productions.

In the summer of 2008, Alain realised a life-long dream when he helped to launch a miniature 'university' called The School of Life - which emulates the spirit of enquiry and playfulness found in his books and which aims not only to discuss life, but also change it for the better. Following on in this entrepreneurial vein, Alain has also helped to start a new organisation called Living Architecture which is building world-class modern architecture for rental around the UK. In 2009, Alain was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, in recognition of his services to architecture.



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ISBN: 9780141027913
ISBN-10: 0141027916
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 336
Published: 25th May 2010
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 13.2  x 2.2
Weight (kg): 0.5