Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
This exploration of how and why we labor arrives at a poignant time, as global economic turmoil cuts off countless workers from their livelihoods-and the meaning work gives them. Essayist and novelist de Botton (How Proust Can Change Your Life) spends time with workers in England as well as the United States, including fishermen, rocket scientists, accountants, a landscape painter, and a career counselor, in pursuit of some fundamental truth about work. His conclusion is, perhaps unavoidably, elusive; he variously seems to praise commitment to a task and to deride it, to glorify and to condemn modern industry. De Botton filters his subjects' experiences through his own; though he is a witty, engaging interlocutor, his dominant voice distances the reader from those he aims to portray. Photographer Richard Baker contributes visual images of workers and workplaces, including a photo-essay documenting the process by which a tuna in the Indian Ocean becomes dinner for an English child. Providing provocative insights on specialization and the transitory nature of significance, this is sophisticated reading on a timely subject. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/09.]-Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington Libs., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Veteran narrator David Colacci delivers an evenhanded, workmanlike performance of De Botton's philosophical exploration of the joys, pains and meaning of work. The erudite and frequently amusing meditation on vocation is accompanied by profiles of a broad spectrum of workers-employed in everything from biscuit manufacturing to rocket science, fishing to career counseling-with Colacci deftly capturing the text's perfect mix of sly humor and gravity and allowing listeners an opportunity to reflect on and question his or her own working life. A Pantheon hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 13). (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Beginning with a quote from Walt Whitman's "A Song for Occupations," this volume sings the praises of human work, aided by photographs by Richard Baker of various aspects of occupations. The author was inspired by the men at the pier to "attempt a hymn to the intelligence, peculiarity, beauty and horror of the modern workplace and ... provide us, alongside love, with the principal source of life's meaning." Chapters follow on verbal and photographic images of logistics, biscuit manufacture, career counseling, rocket science, painting and the equipment required for contemporary painting and the approach of the artist to practice what the author calls a "secular icon," transmission engineering, accountancy, entrepreneurship, and the "semi-ruined objects" of aviation. In all, de Botton's focus on work forces readers, as he writes, to focus on their own significance at work or the simultaneous triviality of what they do to seek both perfection and mastery in their efforts. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. L. Braude emeritus, SUNY Fredonia
De Botton is the author of eight previous books, mostly philosophical essays covering ideas such as love, friendship, architecture, and self-worth, often using the analysis of other thinkers as a guide. Here he travels the globe to examine occupations of the unusual and mundane variety in search of the elusive qualities that cause work to range from delightful to dreadful. Some of the touchstones for this meditation on work include a London biscuit factory, a satellite rocket launch in French Guiana, and a meeting with the Maldives minister of fish while tracing the path of a tuna from net to dinner table. Visits with a painter, accountants, career counselors, and entrepreneurs all help to shed light on the intelligence, peculiarity, beauty, and horror of the modern workplace, and, not least, its extraordinary claim to be able to provide us, alongside love, with the principle source of life's meaning. De Botton's essays reveal the fragile dependencies and interconnectedness that make every one of us a key component of the human network.--Siegfried, David Copyright 2009 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Novelist/essayist de Botton (The Architecture of Happiness, 2006, etc.) turns his inquisitive eye to the business of work. For many of us, writes the author, the "unreasonable banality" of work requires "daily submission at the altars of prudence and order," typically housed in drab, soulless workplaces. (The many photographs are striking proof.) From the beginning of his latest philosophical excursion, however, de Botton appreciates that work is a meaningful act, if only in the most elemental senseworkers need to put food on the table. Still, the author found a certain heroic beauty in many of the work environments he visited, including that of an aircraft salesman, a biscuit manufacturer, an electricity-transmission engineer, a career counselor, a painter and an accountant. In each instance, he unhurriedly poked into the workings of the job, examined the possibilities for gleaning pleasure from it and embraced the Protestant worldview that "humility, wisdom, respect, and kindness could be practiced in a shop no less sincerely than in a monastery"no matter how clownish-looking the activity, especially in an economy increasingly based on satisfying peripheral desires. There is something to be said about the delight generated by an artist's creations, or the happy, heedless energy of entrepreneurs, who require "a painfully uncommon synthesis of imagination and realism." Work may be trivial, de Botton notes, but what's interesting is the determination and gravity we bring to it. A luminous photo-essay from a consistently fresh and noble writer. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.