Alain de Botton
Sat 4th April
In his new book The pleasures and sorrows of work Alain de Botton attempts to address this by taking a closer look at the way we earn our livings, inspired partly by his 4-year old son's book 'What do people do all day?' - de Botton liked it so much that he wanted to write a version for adults.
Curious to find out what people do at work de Botton spent two years shadowing biscuit factory workers, City accountants, career counsellors and even professional artists. What were they really doing? What were their motivations? Did they feel fulfilled by their job, or frustrated? Did they live up to the 20th century ambition to combine work with pleasure, rather than just see it as a simple necessity? During the research for his book, de Botton's own career crisis was rumbling away, leading him to question the value of his own work and leaving him wondering whether baking bread wouldn't be a more meaningful occupation.
De Botton delivered his talk with breakneck eloquence, colouring his eclectic erudition with anecdotes and detail, switching perspective from macro to micro, and discovering the telling detail in the unlikeliest of places. He is, it has to be said, an entertaining and thought-provoking speaker. And yet you couldn't help feeling that he operated from behind a veil of irony and playfully looked at the world of work from a safe distance.
He concluded that the modern dream of merging work with pleasure and fulfilment might not have come true for most of us. Still, work was a good and important thing, he said, because it kept you busy and focused, and held at bay the big questions that might otherwise throw you off the trolley. As for de Botton himself: he has booked a baking course for July.