David Mytton

Book Review (4/5) – The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Alain de Botton)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

By examining in detail jobs which most people probably never think about, de Botton provides indirect pointers to considering existential questions about why we do what we do, and how we might measure our impact on the universe.

What makes the prospect of death distinctive in the modern age is the background of permanent technological and sociological revolution against which it is set, and which serves to strip us of any possible faith in the permanence of our labours. Our ancestors could believe that their achievements had a chance of bearing up against the flow of events. We know time to be a hurricane. Our buildings, our sense of style, our ideas, all of these will soon enough be anachronisms, and the machines in which we now take inordinate pride will seem no less bathetic than Yorick’s skull.

Unlike his other books on personal relations, this is less a guide to answering those questions and more about making the reader think about the relevance of those questions in the first place. It is detailed but not boring, and often quite funny. When you consider the idea of “permanence” alongside the length of time humanity has existed, and what we can expect to come over the course of millions of years, the idea of “making an impact” seems somewhat absurd. This book might provide some consolation for most people, but certainly doesn’t aim to quell ambition…just set it in the appropriate context.