Notes from The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton

This book by Alain de Botton started out slowly for me because I am already quite familiar with the global logistical infrastructure and the various ways our food is made (thanks to the Keuringsdienst van Waarde). In the second half though with its focus on the moral and spiritual aspects did it pick up and became a very worthwhile read.

How ignorant most of us are by contrast, surrounded by machines and processes of which we have only the loosest grasp;

The range of items available for purchase may have grown exponentially since then, but our understanding of their genesis has diminished almost to the point of obscurity.

Moments, a six-centimetre-wide biscuit made of chocolate and shortcake

the idea of answering psychological yearnings with dough might seem daunting,

as befitted a snack which respected the realities of life even as it offered temporary relief from them.

Vilfredo Pareto, who theorised that a society would grow wealthy to the extent that its members forfeited general knowledge in favour of fostering individual ability in narrowly constricted fields.

In a perfect society, so specialised would all jobs be, that no one would any longer understand what anyone else was doing.

It is left to the painter, working in a quieter, more observant idiom, to rescue what the film has encouraged its viewers not to see.

The biscuits carried lives on their backs.

All societies have had work at their centre; ours is the first to suggest that it could be something much more than a punishment or a penance.

‘The liberal arts have sung their own praise long enough; they should now raise their voice in praise of the mechanical arts. The liberal arts must free the mechanical arts from the degradation in which these have so long been held by prejudice’.

Their obvious good health and, in some cases, beauty served to suggest that knowledge and experience might not, in the end, be very valuable commodities to take refuge in.

Their obvious good health and, in some cases, beauty served to suggest that knowledge and experience might not, in the end, be very valuable commodities to take refuge in.

One might be doomed not by a lack of talent, but by a species of pessimistic pride.

As a result, it is now a member of the European Union, its highest legal authority is the Court of Justice in Strasbourg, its agricultural and fishery policies are defined in Brussels and its currency, valid even in the Indian settlement of Pilakoupoupiaina on the Oyapock River, is the euro, from the European Central Bank of Frankfurt-am-Main.

They engaged in elaborate praise of their counterparts’ most routine achievements, like their ability to build a petrol station or to install air conditioning

Evoking comparison with Chandigarh and Brasilia, two other examples of modern architecture’s impressive track record of indifference to issues of context and culture, it was in an advanced stage of decomposition after only a few decades of existence.

for it meant that never again would the fate of planetary exploration depend to a hazardous degree on such unpredictable variables as the mood of Johannes Kepler’s wife, Barbara, or the inclinations of his patron Emperor Rudolf II

class? I felt my allegiances shift to the engineers and technicians around me, these new medicine men who often sported baseball caps, and had a tendency towards unsophisticated humour – but who had nonetheless mastered the workings of the universe.

There is also a suitcase jammed with scarves and jumpers, for outdoor painters tend to know the story of how Cézanne caught a chill one morning while painting a sparrow in a field in Aix-en-Provence – and was dead by sunset.

I found myself wishing that the rest of mankind would follow the engineers’ example and agree on a series of symbols which could point incontrovertibly to certain elusive, vaporous and often painful psychological states- a code which might help us to feel less tongue-tied and less lonely, and enable us to resolve arguments with swift and silent exchanges of equations.

Sentimental associations and impossible longings are shut down, and the self is reassembled as an apparently coherent entity, with stable commitments and a prescribed future.

we can be grateful for how tightly bound we have kept our desires, and proud of the restraint we have shown in not poisoning our colleagues or entombing our relations under the patio.

How satisfying it is to be held in check by the assumptions of colleagues, instead of being forced to contemplate, in the loneliness of the early hours, all that one might have been and now never will be.

They have no ambition to become known to strangers or to record their insights for an unimpressed and ephemeral future. They are well adjusted enough to have made their peace with oblivion.

printed a quote from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt, in which the president spoke of the need for every man to strive for excellence and, ‘if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat’.

Of course, power has not disappeared entirely; it has merely been reconfigured. It is by posing as a regular employee that the chairman stands his best chance of preserving his seniority. His subordinates admire the sincerity with which he pretends to share their fate, while he privately recognises that only a convincing show of normalcy will prevent him from ever having to be normal again.

before adroitly slipping in a recommendation for improvements to their methods in the humble and supplicating manner of a preacher in an age of declining faith.

How few are the moments of the day when money is truly being made, and how many are on either side given over to daydreams and recuperation.

He contemplates all that has been difficult, unnecessary and regrettable but from a position of distance, with a calm and poignant vantage point over his imperfections and missed opportunities, as though his life were nothing but a bad sentimental film and he its half sympathetic, half repugnant hero.

The start-up company may be as central to our contemporary ideals as the ritual of praying for the souls of the dead or the maintenance of female virginity was to the values of our medieval ancestors.

a new kind of holiday company which would take tourists around industrial locations rather than museums;

Their real function was to serve as a reminder of the unavailability of beauty to an overwhelmingly male, middle-aged and harried-looking base of customers.

Learning of it was akin to having seduced someone in a bar only to discover, when she stood up to dance or go to the bathroom, that she had only one leg.

invented the term Ruinenlust to describe this new passion. It seems, in fact, that the more advanced a society is, the greater will be its interest in ruined things, for it will see in them a redemptively sobering reminder of the fragility of its own achievements.

It is paying death too much respect to prepare for it with sage prescriptions.

Notes from The Drowned Cities by Paulo Bacigalupi

Not hugely satisfying but still a nice read. Supposedly the first book in this series is better.

A hasty temper was one of the greatest faults a general could have, and people who were provoked by insults were easy to defeat.

“You think China’s sending in peacekeepers again?”

When the sea levels rose, they built huge dikes to protect their coastlines, and floated their greatest cities on the waves, like they did with Island Shanghai.

Now, she swung the machete with expert strength. City girl learning country living.

It was submerged again, but it had been terrifying—beast and human welded together in an unholy mix.

Soldier boys would’ve loved it. Battle to the death. Epic ring.

“I ain’t started cutting, yet.” “So you’re starting with her tongue?” “Gotta start somewhere.”

Scout the town. See if we got any more castoffs. Maybe we got a whole nest of China rats we don’t know about.

It was foolish to think that there was anything left to save energy for, but it was his nature. He had been designed too well.

Full-grown. Unusual in the Drowned Cities, where war ate its young long before they reached maturity.

Full-grown. Unusual in the Drowned Cities, where war ate its young long before they reached maturity.

She’d seen people stand up, determined to hold on to principles. People who thought there was right and wrong. People who tried to save others.

He would have stood tall. And the soldier boys would have shot his head right off and gone on to someone else without a second thought.

I’m sure whoever first started questioning their political opponents’ patriotism thought they were being quite clever.

You didn’t want to overthink. It just got you confused, and it got you killed.

Nobody wanted a castoff reminding them how China had taken everything over for more than a decade, telling everyone what to do and how to live.

“Generals are in the habit of using up all the people around them. It’s their job. It’s what they do best.”