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A Week at the Airport [Paperback]

Alain De Botton
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 21 2010
The bestselling author of The Architecture of Happiness and The Art of Travel spends a week at an airport in a wittily intriguing meditation on the "non-place" that he believes is the centre of our civilization.

In the summer of 2009, Alain de Botton was invited by the owners of Heathrow airport to become their first ever writer-in-residence. Given unprecedented, unrestricted access to wander around one of the world's busiest airports, he met travellers from all over the globe, and spoke with everyone from baggage handlers to pilots, and senior executives to the airport chaplain. Based on these conversations he has produced this extraordinary meditation on the nature of travel, work, relationships, and our daily lives. Working with the renowned documentary photographer Richard Baker, he explores the magical and the mundane, and the interactions of travellers and workers all over this familiar but mysterious "non-place," which by definition we are eager to leave. Taking the reader through departures, "air-side," and the arrivals hall, de Botton shows with his usual combination of wit and wisdom that spending time in an airport can be more revealing than we might think.

Frequently Bought Together

A Week at the Airport + Art Of Travel + Status Anxiety
Price For All Three: CDN$ 45.48

  • Art Of Travel CDN$ 14.44
  • Status Anxiety CDN$ 17.33

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Product Description

Review

"De Botton's most imaginative work yet"
— The Spectator.

"Funny, charming and slender enough to pack in your carry-on." 
Daily Mail

"His observations on airport life are wry and thought-provoking . . . excellent." 
Telegraph

"Shrewd, perceptive and gently ironic . . . At de Botton's T5, banality and sublimity circle in a perpetual holding pattern." 
Independent

About the Author

ALAIN DE BOTTON has published seven previous non-fiction books: The Architecture of Happiness, Essays in Love, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Status Anxiety, The Art of Travel, How Proust Can Change Your Life, and The Consolations of Philosophy, three of which were made into TV documentaries. He has also published two novels: The Romantic Movement and Kiss and Tell. In 2004, Status Anxiety was awarded the prize for the Economics Book of the Year by the Financial Times, Germany. Cambridge-educated, de Botton is a frequent contributor to numerous newspapers, journals, and magazines. His work is published in twenty-five countries.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Very simple yet very funny Feb. 28 2011
By kchoum
Format:Paperback
Whether you are already a fan of Alain de Botton or haven't yet read any of his works, this little book is a great addition to any library. The author manages to write poetically on a topic most of us never stop to contemplate. Very philosophical ideas, unique outlooks, and even humorous. I recommend it!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Why? Nov. 25 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alain de Botton writes well and brings an extensive knowledge of travel to bear on the subject, but ... I found myself wondering why the subject needed a book written about it.

Every traveling writer I know spends boring hours in airports, and we all while away the hours of waiting by journaling. We all struggle to amuse ourselves by observing and reflecting on what we see in the airport. That is what de Botton has done, and the book is as good or bad as our journal pages written in airports.

It is not painful to read, but it is not an important book either.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! Dec 28 2009
By Alison - Published on Amazon.com
This is my first experience of Alain de Botton's writing and after devouring this book in less than 2 hours (partly due to it's brevity and partly because I enjoyed it so much) I'll be looking to read more of his work.

I'm probably a little unusual in that I love airports and attempt to arrive much earlier than is really necessary so I can get airside as soon as possible and begin to immerse myself in the world of the terminal. I've never been to terminal 5 but the world that de Botton describes could be any large airport terminal; it feels very familiar.

I loved de Botton's perceptive writing and his incisive and insightful look at the lifeblood of the airport. The book is funny, interesting and very engaging. He meets a variety of people and captures their essence in a few short words; impressive observational writing. The photographs by Richard Baker make the book and it wouldn't be as good or feel as complete without them.

This little book is thoroughly enjoyable for the high quality writing and high quality photography. It's one of my favourite books read this year and I'll be getting The Art of Travel soon!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Craftsmanship Oct. 3 2010
By J. Brian Watkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have long lamented that Mr. De Botton's publishers can't seem motivated enough to provide color illustrations. I would gladly repurchase a new edition of The Architecture of Happiness, among others, if the illustrations could be redone to the quality of those in A Week at the Airport. Now, having established myself as a reader who likes pretty pictures, I will go on record to say that if Mr. De Botton were responsible for a picture-free user's manual of some piece of software in painfully tiny print, I would still purchase it and read it cover to cover.

This man has something worthwhile to say and a piercing intellect with which to say it. The executive who chose him to profile the airport should be promoted. Fine writing is like a journey and as Mr. De Botton has taught us, travel is an art. Obviously the author leaves traces of his biases and interests in any work and reading this work only serves to increase my envy of those travelers who, having encountered the man at the table, were able to engage him in a two-sided conversation.

However, a one-sided conversation with this author quite suffices. Lest your powers of perception be dim, this is a book about an airport--nothing more, nothing less. We need, sometimes, to be reminded of the successes of our culture and the example of a Ghanian family leaving London with a prized new possession sums it up nicely. The airport may contain a posh and comfortable retreat for the wealthy, but as a whole represents the strivings of an entire civilization to explore and do business to the limits of the globe itself.

An airport is an enterprise worth describing and this book does credit to the concept of turning a trained observer loose on what may otherwise escape our attention.

Highest Recommendation
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Week at the Airport" is more compelling than flight itself. Sept. 21 2010
By Helen Gallagher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you've ever imagined where the airport departures timetable might take you, Alain de Botton shares your travel lust. The author was fortunate to receive an assignment to set up a desk at the new Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport for a week, and write about his observations. It is our good fortune to observe his week, and enjoy the unprecedented access he shares with us in "A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary."

His assignment as Writer in Residence gave him full privileges to wander the airport, night and day, and he doesn't miss a thing from security, loneliness, behind-the-scenes workers, and mechanical marvels. de Botton writes with a conversational tone as though he is thinking aloud, as in his other books, and he invites us in to look into the lives of travelers.

I look forward to seeing the airport through de Botton's eyes the next time I pack a bag and travel. And, with great anticipation, I will also await Alain de Botton's next book, wherever the world takes him.

Helen Gallagher Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars terrific behind-the-scenes look at an airport's inner workings Sept. 28 2013
By lindapanzo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
When I was a kid (in those simpler, less security conscious days), I used to pester any adult I could find to take me to visit the airport. I loved to hang out at the observation deck at O'Hare and watch the planes take off and land and also wander around and watch the people at the airport. I rarely fly now (more car and Amtrak trips) but I would have LOVED the chance to experience what the author of this book did: spend a week at the airport.

In this wonderful little book, the author spent a week wandering around the new terminal at London's Heathrow Airport, talking to passengers and employees alike and observing everything going on. He talks to everyone, from the head of British Airways to someone who cleans the restrooms.

This is a terrific behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of an airport. You might think it sounds dull but it's not that at all.
4.0 out of 5 stars Points of Departure Aug. 21 2014
By MoseyOn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In 2009, Alain de Botton, who has fashioned a career out of helping the average non-philosopher think more philosophically about life, spent a week at the new (2008) Terminal 5 of London’s Heathrow Airport as its first (and, one assumes, still its only) “writer-in-residence,” given free rein to observe, think, ask, nose about, and reflect on the experience of passing through, or working at, a major airport. With all the coming and going that people do these days, all the farewells and reunions, all the mixing of cultures and selling of products, all the technological sophistication that goes into the airplanes and their support structures (baggage handling systems, for example), the airport terminal, de Botton maintains, is “the imaginative centre of contemporary culture” (p. 13). In this short book, divided into four sections that summarize the travel experience (Approach, Departures, Airside, Arrivals), de Botton observes, unpacks, deconstructs, appreciates, and philosophizes about this most transitional of spaces. Yes, there are people who work there full-time, for whom the place represents not change but, they hope, permanence in the form of a regular paycheck. But for most of us, an airport terminal is a place where we spend some time on the way to somewhere else. All its pleasures and frustrations are fleeting (though the latter certainly stay in memory longer). As a result, de Botton occupied an unusual position: not an employee of the airport or one of the business it contains, but also not a traveler. He was there, even staying at a hotel adjacent to the terminal, for seven days—much less than a terminal worker or executive, but far, far longer in one stretch than any of us is ever likely to spend there, unless we get trapped by some kind of overseas political catastrophe à la Tom Hanks in “The Terminal.” In de Botton’s hands, the result of this exercise in knowledgeable-non-participant observation is a thoughtful stroll through one of modern life’s most kinetic common spaces. I suppose that his writing may seem slightly pretentious at times, at least on first exposure. But he so skillfully grasps and reveals the essence of what he is describing that all is forgiven. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, nodding knowingly at times and once or twice actually laughing out loud (quietly). And it’s not just “here’s what an airport terminal is like.” The book is punctuated with reflections that go beyond, but give philosophical context to, the details of travel and transition. On page 93, for example, de Botton reminds us of the perspective-broadening effect of frequent travel, something in which I believe pretty firmly. “One wants to keep counterpoising home with what one knows of alternative realities, as they exist in Tunis or Hyderabad. One wants never to forget that nothing here is normal, that the streets are different in Wiesbaden and Luoyang, that this is just one of many possible worlds.”

Some of his brief digressions take de Botton a bit farther afield from the actual experience of traveling than the “alternative reality” musings, but they are no less welcome for all that. On pages 37-42, he moves from a discussion of pre-vacation family dynamics, to a question of whether or not airlines should take any responsibility for the “metaphysical well-being” of their customers, to the observation that “our capacity to derive pleasure from aesthetic and material goods seems critically dependent on our first satisfying a more important range of emotional and psychological needs, among them those for understanding, compassion and respect. . . . How quickly all the advantages of technological civilisation are wiped out by a domestic squabble.” Now, how many of us think of such things when we are neck-deep in the hassles of travel and taking out our frustrations on seemingly under-appreciative family member? Probably not many of us. That, I suppose, is one reason why we need writers-in-residence, if not at airports, then perhaps at our places of work, our supermarkets, our houses of worship. Hey, that’s not a bad idea . . .
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