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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work    by Alain de Botton order for
Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
by Alain de Botton
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

In a series of essays, Alain de Botton discusses an eclectic selection of occupations. This is not a blow-by-blow description of what various jobs entail. In fact, the author is quite general in his approach and he digresses a good deal as he gives his reader a glimpse of working in the logistics field, biscuit (cookie) manufacturing, electrical transmission engineering, accounting, entrepreneurship, and aviation or actually the storage of redundant aircraft.

You'll get unconventional looks at various occupations that are both interesting and informative. For example, in one chapter the author shares his two day hike with a founding member of a British group known as the Pylon Appreciation Society, as he learns about the electrical transmission system, and in the next he follows the 52 hour journey of tuna from the Indian Ocean to a family table in England.

Although all of the chapters, even the one on accounting, held my interest, I have to admit the first one on cargo ships and the closing chapter on aviation were my favorites. The up-close looks at a Mojave Desert graveyard for commercial aircraft in California and a Gravesend (England) container ship operation were quite enjoyable.

As much addressing the nature of work as specific types of employment, the author explains that our choice of occupation is held to define our identity, to the extent that the most insistent question we ask of new acquaintances is not where they come from, or who their parents were, but what they do, the assumption being that the route to a meaningful existence must invariably pass through the gate of remunerative employment.

Alain de Botton has a tendency to wax poetic at times or, looking at it another way, he is quite taken with his own prose, which means he may occasionally appear a bit pompous. Fortunately, when he does indulge in these flights of philosophical fancy they don't last long. So, when he does suddenly digress from power transmission lines to bird watching and Ralph Waldo Emerson, you can either choose to accompany him or skip ahead a few paragraphs.

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