Book Review: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton

“Two centuries ago, our forebears would have known the precised history and origin of nearly every one of the limited number of things they ate and owned, as well as of the people and tools involved in their production. They were acquainted with the pig, the carpenter, the weaver, the loom and the dairymaid. The range of items available for purchase may have grwon exponentially since then, but our understanding of their genesis has diminished almost to the point of obscurity. We are now as imaginatively disconnected from the manufacture and distribution of our goods as we are practically in reach of them, a process of alienation which has stripped us of myriad opportunities for wonder, gratitude and guilt.”

picture of book on desk

De Botton is an excellent writer who attempts to bring out all of those feelings through careful observation of the ubiquitous but generally ignored world of work. He studied bullshit jobs and attempts to bring them and those who have them back into a meaningful humanized scale.  No easy task.

Workers were occupied with the ancient task of trying to stay alive, which simply happened to require, in a consumer economy overwhelmingly based on the satisfaction of peripheral desires, a series of activities all too easily confused with clownishness.

I am struggling with the meaning of labor that involves an extraordinary amount of sitting and talking and very few moments in each day that help another person in a concrete way. My work is happily part of a great institution in which I believe, which is a comfort. But joining the middle managerial class means that my actual tasks tend to be obscure. 

In other news, I was delighted to spot a woman on the seven train reading a library copy of the book Early Retirement Extreme. I clumsily struck up a conversation and we passed a few cheerful minutes comparing our DIY haircuts. She invited me to go to a MMM meetup to connect with more frugal New Yorkers. It’s nice to know there are people all around who are thinking through the same ideas.


Author: Emily

Writer/ Librarian

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