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Bob Sutton

As I have read the comments below and read the book a bit more, I am struck by two things. The first is how varied the reactions are to the book and the second is the strength. There is an argument that, although this style is not my cup of tea, that the moist important thing that any author can do is to provoke varied and strong reactions, as it is a sign that he or she has made people think, energized them enough to engage with the ideas and argue with others about them. So, by that standard, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work is certainly successful -- if all the comments were negative that would be one thing, but clearly this book touches a nerve in people. I especially thank the people who have left positive comments, as having both perspectives represented makes things more interesting, and at least forces me to examine my assumptions and opinions more closely.

Deb White

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Joseph Logan


Agreed. Negativity is where you find it, although the "uncomfortably close" bit really did strike me as unnecessary and potentially embarrassing as the gentleman might very well read this account. De Botton's reaction to the review (CV's link above) does little to shift my suspicions, instead adding another anecdote and an uncomfortable public tirade. That said, I'll probably get the book today so I can make a fair assessment. I lived in the UK long enough that I think I'll be able to work out what's meant to be cheeky or self-effacing.

Your point, though, is well-taken, if perhaps a little sensitive. I think Bob is correct that there are cultural differences in humor, and that many Americans don't get the subtleties of British humor. Bob is self-aware enough to hold that out as a possibility, considering that it might be something he missed. There is a difference between acknowledging that there might be something he doesn't understand and perpetuating a stereotype. It's not clear to me why you interpreted it that way, nor what you saw in my comment that caused you to call me out.

Susan Bellenden

I couldn't disagree more. I read de Botton's book and found it totally charming and self-deprecating. He attacks himself far more than he attacks others. I think you might have been misunderstanding his wit. Also, in a world of management books that treats humans as just units to be handled more efficiently, this is a book that looks at the psychological dramas of the workplace. Highly recommended!


I really don't like the connection of "cheeky wit" with being British. Please remember that stereotypes are usually unhelpful, whichever group you are referring to. Just because one British man wrote a book riddled with negativity and "cheeky wit" doesn't mean it's a cultural thing. Every country has its arseholes.

@ Joseph Logan
I had to leave Blighty to meet real negativity, so I guess it depends on who your friends are.


i think it's just a cultural thing. some people can take affectionate teasing, some can't.

in fact, my friends & i get pretty good laughs out of self-deprecating jokes, even when some can be pretty harsh.

i think it takes some kind of rapport and self-confidence to be able to do that; and it is a celebration that life isn't always perfect, we laugh at our mistakes/ flaws even as we try to correct them/ learn to cope.

but yes, not everyone can stand brit-wit. however, i think life is so much more interesting with it.

where to draw the line between affectionate teasing coupled with gentle correction and downright ridicule, however, is another thing to think about. it depends on the other person, i guess.

Bob - thanks for the review of de Botton's management book. It looks like I'll have to pass on that one... I absolutely despise actions at the expense of others.

From your review, de Botton's attitude towards the workers he studied is similar to a problem that plagues many business environments; the relationship between upper management/executives and "blue collar" workers is often one characterized by pomposity on behalf of the "white collars". That relationship must be improved on and management must engage employees for betterment of the company. Organizations which have satisfied employees that are recognized, rewarded, and appreciated are much better off in today's business environment.

I really enjoyed How Proust Can Change Your Life, de Botton's first non-fiction book, but haven't thought the others matched up. Neither did this one, which I also found sadly condescending towards all who can't or don't intellectualize publicly to earn their living.

Bob, be on the lookout-- One well-know reviewer who wrote a "nasty" (aka negative) review of this book got a little social media A------ action back from de Botton, who later apologized. But still, it was disappointing behavior.(Proust would NEVER have responded that way to bad reviews, he'd have just drawn the draperies closer and indulged in more cookies).

Maybe de Botton should read YOUR book?


Wow, I had a completely different reaction to this book...I thought his examination of work was interesting and compelling. He was describing things from such an outsider perspective that I found it fascinating, and I did not take away a mean spirited viewpoint.

I felt he thought different businesses were fascinating and that's why he examined them so others could see how they worked.

I don't think English is his first language, and I actually found his language was stilted and a bit hard to get into at first...maybe you never connected with his writing style?


You're not missing anything, that sort of ironic sneering is the lazy man's substitute for wit, and sadly it's very acceptable in Britain. It makes it very tough to be openly passionate about getting crazy ideas off the ground, and it's the main reason I'm a lot more comfortable here in the US.

I did a post talking about this kind of negativity:

There are some good people in the UK fighting to change attitudes, but it's an uphill struggle against the culture.

Joseph Logan

Hmmm... I had looked forward to reading this, and I thought his TED talk was self-effacing and funny if not particularly earth-shattering. I suspect, though, that you weren't missing anything. Just the one anecdote is clearly "cheek" at the expense of someone who welcomed the author to his workplace and his working life. Time to administer the ARSE?

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