The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton

Work

The one defining feature of the modern times that unifies the entire strand of humanity is ‘work’. At the risk of sounding prosaic and morose, it may safely be asserted that work occupies a predominant proportion of the daily existence of man. However is the supposed prolixity of work a cause to lament about? Or does the monotonous tedium of work (a majority of them at any rate) hide within a mystique that is waiting to be explored about and enthused upon?

In this fascinating book, Alain de Botton tries to find answers to the above questions by observing a random set of people engaged in their daily chores. Accountants, a painter, a career counsellor, aviation experts, a power transmission expert, entrepreneurs, an aviation expert, a biscuit manufacturer and a logistics service provider all vie for de Botton’s attention whilst donning the garb of creatures of habit in going about their mundane chores.

de Botton’s journeys take him to obscure places such as an isolated cornfield where a painter has been engaged in capturing on canvas multifarious shades of a single oak tree, an exercise that has taken close to three years; a humongous warehouse bathing the night in a glare of artificial lights; a trip that involves alternating between road and rail as a medium of transport when not pausing to examine an intricate latticework of pylons transmitting electricity; the confines of gleaming glass structures from where senior partners plan tax savings, sign off on audited statements, and where the dining room is adorned by the poster of a cow tearing into a muddy water (a scene which prompts the author to think about the suicidal tendencies that might be prevalent in cows).

328 pages later, as the anthology of work comes to its logical conclusion, we are left to wonder at our stereotypical misgivings and remorseful musings. Work without a semblance of doubt is laced with its own set of particular and irreversible travails, but the very fact that it provides meaning to our existence more than compensates for the reluctant proclivities of its varied practitioners. The very fact that it is work which keep our thoughts firmly away from the final destination of us all, an inevitable end taking the shape of an ever lurking death, is in itself sufficient and adequate for work to deserve a place of veneration in our minds.

“Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” – A wake up call to re-evaluate preconceived notions.

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