Skip to content

The Sorrows of Reading about Work

2011 June 1

For this month’s bookclub, we are reading Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I found de Botton’s voice condescending and arrogant. He refers to women as “symbols” one too many times for me–just because a woman is attractive doesn’t mean that she can’t be an effective salesperson independently of her looks.


Beyond the misogyny, I doubt de Botton’s ever had a “real job” in his life, and his quest to learn more about the world of work seems like a way for him to look down on all of us working drones. I read the book expecting to find out more about the unique aspects of these people’s lives and careers in rocket science, accounting, painting, electrical engineering–wouldn’t it be interesting to know what the daily routines of a rocket scientist are??

However, de Botton fills the book with overblown metaphors about the meaning of life and spends the rocket science chapter simultaneously poking fun at Japanese television and the desolate landscape of a poverty-stricken South American country. He watches a rocket launch in awe, then talks about how society has fallen prey to worshiping the false gods of science and technology over nature…when mere pages later, in the electrical engineering chapter, he goes on a tour of electrical pylons and waxes poetic about the power and beauty of these giant machines, lamenting with his companion the inability of people to see beyond the traditional beauty of the natural landscape. Which one is it, buddy? Nature or science?

Ultimately, de Botton makes his reader (most of whom likely have jobs that aren’t “fulfilling” in this sense of purpose he seems to equate with a meaningful life) feel inadequate and depressed, as though spending a life working for a living equates to wasting your talents in a soul-sucking vacuum of misery and stupidity. Too bad we can’t all spend our days traveling the country, gaining people’s trust and then judging them, write a book about it and consider ourselves some kind of expert.

I read non-fiction to learn new things. This book taught me one thing–never to read another book by de Botton.

A few snaps on my way to the office last week:

Dress: Swapped

Scarf: Echo Designs via Salmagundi, Boston MA

Belt: J. Crew

Tights: HUE

Boots: Steve Madden

Hard to believe I was wearing tights and boots just last week!

Have you read a book recently that you were disappointed with?

4 Responses Post a comment
  1. June 1, 2011

    Eesh, this book sounds heinous. However, you more than made up for its heinousness with your awesome outfit! I love the blue/yellow combination.

  2. June 1, 2011

    Sooooo glad we had the same reaction to this book. I almost forgot the rampant misogyny! Thanks for reminding me of yet another reason this dude creeped me out.

  3. June 1, 2011

    the only book I’ve ever read by de Botton is The Romantic Movement (I own Kiss and Tell but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet) and I absolutely loved it.

  4. June 4, 2011

    sooo I know you replied to my comment but now I can’t find it? lol XD Anyway, I just wanted to tell you, that I find his twitter feed to be *whispers* kind of pretentious *stops whispering* so you may not be selling him short at all. one thing I did like about the Romantic Movement was that it felt more balanced — both the guy and the gal are responsible for some of the failures their relationship and de Botton illustrates that nicely so that no one is completely innocent or guilty. so perhaps his fiction will be more to your liking!

Leave a Reply

Note: You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS