Thursday, July 23, 2009

Alain De Botton - The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

I've seen a few episodes of De Botton's show on TV but haven't read any of his popular books on philosophy. According to this report, Australians are huge fans of his practical 'brand' of philosophy.

So it was with a few high expectations that I approached his latest book,
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. What a great topic! And I was especially interested in what the book had to offer, considering the many angst driven discussions I’ve had with friends over the past year about work and what work means to our lives. (Is it oh so very Gen X to have a mid life crises in your 30s?)

Overall, I was really disappointed in De Botton’s book. It failed on many accounts. Firstly, the bulk of the book was too descriptive, lacking in substantial analysis and at times so shallow. For example the chapter on entrepreneurs, which could have been so fascinating, was too short and read like a magazine puff piece. Oh there was some attempted analysis with comments on the late capitalism, consumerism etc but they seemed like an afterthought.

Secondly, I felt De Botton was too dismissive of the occupations he was supposed to be analysing and reporting on. There was a real element of condescension and also sometimes pure snarkiness running through many of his descriptions of the "workers" he meets. Caleb Crain makes the point clear in his
NYT review calling De Botton on his mean-spiritedness and superficial judgements.

Thirdly, the language really annoyed me! It was so unnecessarily complicated and induced some eye ball rolling. In some parts of the book I thought, “is he really trying to construct the longest sentence with the biggest words?”.

Gee, I think I’ve really slammed this book! But it is coming from a good place, as I so wanted this book to be interesting, relevant and resonant.

On a side note, what is fascinating is the dust-up that has happened since Crain's review. De Botton posted quite a snarky comment on Crain blog ending with the rather lovely lines: "
I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude."

(Eye-ball rolling on "schadenfreude" - oh please if you're gonna diss someone it is so not necessary to put a foreign word in!!!)

LOL, you've got love the next posted comment - "Oh dear...".


tseen said...

So nice to have you back on blog, BB. I was really interested in your take on this book because I've read other books of De Botton and, while thinking them shallow (to cater for the "public philosophy" face that he wears so earnestly), didn't mind them too much. Later books are increasingly fluffy, though, from all accounts. I think the lure of a publisher's advance has become too much (cf. Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, among many others).

Great comments ensued after ADB's snarky one you linked to. Particularly liked the one about the story of Richard Ford shooting his critic's book...! There should be more of that in academia!

Book Boy said...

Aww thanks Tseenster, it's good to be back blogging.

Yeah i read the salon article about richard ford. Esp interesting following the whole alice hoffman twitter incident!!

Geez some touchy authors should be allowed near technology;-)

LOL fancy ADB thinking his posting a comment on a blog was only going to be personal - hello??