Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton

There always has to be someone willing to over-intellectualize any particular aspect of modern life -- and, for most of them, we have Alain de Botton, who is more than happy to fix his immense erudition on the most trivial of things, to make us all feel smarter, more connected, and more educated than we really are.

For A Week at the Airport -- which feels like an only very slightly overgrown Sunday-magazine article, complete with big glossy photos by Richard Baker, often in that just slightly out-of-focus style that proves that they were both intensely artistic and shot in the heat of the moment -- de Botton spends a week as "writer-in-residence" at Heathrow airport in London, and closely examines, with all the erudite firepower he can muster, every single aspect of life and commerce and love and travel that comes to his mind over that week.

This slim book is divided into four parts -- Approach, essentially an introduction; Departures, mostly about how de Botton settled into the airport hotel and a general overview of the passengers and their thoughts; Airside, focused on the workers at the airport, from security to cleaners to shopkeepers; and Arrivals, a short summing-up and attempt to contextualize modern air travel, with lots of philosophizing and deep thoughts. It all hovers at the verge of being too much from the first page to the last, but, due to its slim size, never quite moves over that frontier entirely.

This is clearly not a book for those who don't believe in the examined life; de Botton examines every last molecule of every aspect of life -- that's his shtick. But, if examination is as fascinating to you as de Botton's voice is to him, you may find plenty to think about in A Week at the Airport. And, even if you don't, it shouldn't take more than two hours to read, so you can get on to other things quite quickly.

(Longtime Antick Musings readers may remember that I was less kind to the somewhat longer The Architecture of Happiness; I may have mellowed, or de Botton may be easier to take the fewer pages he uses.)

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