The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, By Alain de Botton
Sunday 25 April 2010
Work looms large in the lives of most of us, but has always been strangely under-represented in literature. This book goes some way to remedying that deficit. In a series of wry, poignant essays, Alain de Botton examines the work that goes into planting a tree, building a pylon, marketing an invention and designing a biscuit.
He explores whole worlds of work which are alien planets to the majority of us – such as the world of container ships, and the enthusiasts who spot them and are self-taught experts on gantry cranes, iron-ore bulk carriers, switch gears and wheat storage. A brilliant photo-essay (and hats off to Richard Baker for his moody, Edward Hopper-esque black-and-white photos) charts the journey of a tuna from the Maldives to your local supermarket.
De Botton astutely observes that the office is to the modern world what the cloister was to the Middle Ages: a sexually charged arena of repressed desire. He has a gift for defamiliarising the taken-for-granted events of everyday life, such as a train full of comfortable commuters silently reading newspaper stories of tragedy, abduction and murder: "These accounts, so obviously catastrophic and demented, are paradoxically consoling, for they help us to feel sane and blessed by comparison."
The last chapter sees De Botton having an "Ozymandias" moment as he contemplates an aeroplane graveyard in the Mojave Desert. All our endeavours are ultimately futile, he argues, but how unbearable and how unwise it would be to dwell on that fact. Let us work instead. "Let death find us as we are building up our matchstick protests against its waves." De Botton's combination of grave melancholy and sly humour is reminiscent of Proust, or Leonard Cohen.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Games of Thrones actor Lena Headey makes emotional promise to her unborn daughter
- 2 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 3 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 4 Female Muay Thai champion hustles coaches to give them a beating
- 5 16-year-old girl beaten and burned alive by lynch mob in Rio Bravo, Guatemala
Eurovision 2015: Graham Norton returns with another cutting commentary - his best lines
Eurovision 2015: The best moments from Australia's random entry to Lithuania's gay kiss
Clarkson, Hammond and May Live: Top Gear trio returns with a blend of fireworks, AC/DC and 'automotive pornography'
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland