The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
by Alain de Botton
Penguin, HK$174

Work has been at the centre of all societies but ours is the first to believe it should make us happy and that we should labour even without recompense. So says Alain de Botton, whose success as a literary pontificator allows him to publish books on the flimsiest of pretexts. Our occupations may define us, but it wasn't always so: Aristotle believed there was a 'structural incompatibility between satisfaction and a paid position' and only a private income and life of leisure would allow us to enjoy philosophy and other pleasures. Art is one, although something more than pleasure propelled an artist to spend five months painting a tree on a 20cm square canvas. Herein lies the problem. De Botton has picked, seemingly at random, people doing a grab bag of jobs. Of course he will wonder about meaningful jobs when he tours a factory, although his point is that endeavours may lose meaning when they are subdivided across thousands of lives in many manufacturing sites. People in career counselling, accountancy and transmission engineering, among others, are afforded chapters that may dazzle with words but feel factually and intellectually flabby.