A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton
Black Friday deals - an avalanche of bookish bargains, plus extra discounts and clearance items - live now at Foyles
|A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Paul Harrop|
|Summary: A diary of a week spent as writer-in-residence at Heathrow's Terminal Five. It covers as much ground, and provides as many insights into the human condition, as some novels.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 112||Date: September 2009|
|Publisher: Profile Books Ltd|
A writer-in-residence at an airport is not as daft an idea as it might first seem. After all, TV programmes, and whole series, have entertained millions with what goes on in front of, and behind the scenes at such places. So this book, which is the fruit of such a residency, could be expected to produce few surprises.
Due to our knowledge of the workings of airports, Alain de Botton's account of his seven days at Heathrow's Terminal Five, covers much familiar territory. We witness the woes of the missed flight, the fraught family holiday, the everyday mundanities of the toil which provides our food, security and travel.
Any writer placed in such a situation would be expected to produce insights beyond those to which we are already privy. And de Botton delivers here too. His previous stock-in trade has been to popularise philosophy. He specialises in applying the lessons of great thinkers to our quotidian lives, be it our work or our travel.
So it's no great surprise that he finds food for thought among the fears and frustrations inherent in air travel. An enraged man arriving too late for his flight to Tokyo reminds him that Seneca's wisdom might have prepared the traveller better for such anger. A hotel menu is a likened to haiku.
Such potted remedies for our existential ills have brought much sniffy criticism on de Botton's egg-like head. His critics have derided the superficiality of his application of complex thought. Though if only one reader in a hundred investigates philosophy further as a result of his prompting, however glib, I'd have said his work is worthwhile.
And yes, trying to apply the lessons of, say, Adam Smith to workaday life, especially in a couple of paragraphs in a slim volume like this, will never produce great profundities. But de Botton brings a lot more to his brief than this.
He manages to capture the romance of far-off places, the massive complexity of the interconnected processes supporting our simplest endeavours. He brings a sharp eye and a touching humanity to his observations of the human frailties which constantly threaten to derail those processes.
I enjoyed this book, undemanding and gently ironic as it was. Evocative photographs enhance the moods captured by de Botton's musings. However brief his stay at Heathrow, his book made more connections, prompted more contemplation, displayed more wit and aroused subtler emotions than any number of TV documentaries on the subject. I would warmly recommend it.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of The News: A User's Manual by Alain de Botton.
If you're interested in the application of philosophy to everyday life, you could also try The Secrets of Happiness by Richard Schoch. Or for an appreciation of an earlier, but no less impressive transportation hub: St Pancras Station by Simon Bradley.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.