The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

Alain de Botton

01/03/2009 12:00 pm

We spend much of our lives at work – but surprisingly little gets written about what makes work both one of the most exciting and most painful of all our activities. Alain de Botton came to Jewish Book Week to present his ninth book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. This is an exploration of the joys and perils of the modern workplace, evoking what other people get up to all day – and night – to make the frenzied contemporary world function. With a philosophical eye and his characteristic combination of wit and wisdom, Alain de Botton lead us on a journey around a deliberately eclectic range of occupations, from rocket science to biscuit manufacture, accountancy to art – in search of what make jobs either fulfilling or soul-destroying.

Along the way de Botton skilfully raised the big questions we all tend to ask of our work: What is the right job for me? How can I make the most of my talents? What should I be aiming for in my career?

The book and de Botton’s talk amounted to a celebration and investigation of an activity as central to a good life as love – but which we often find remarkably hard to reflect on properly. As de Botton pointed out, most of us are still working at jobs chosen for us by our sixteen-year-old selves.

Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton's bestselling books include Religion for Atheists, How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, and The Architecture of Happiness. He lives in London and founded The School of Life ( and Living Architecture (