De Botton on what makes a job meaningful

(Only Motherless Brooklyn remains partially unread in the set of books photographed here. I read excerpts of Motherless Brooklyn in a Paris Review issue sometime ago.)

(Only Motherless Brooklyn remains partially unread in the set of books photographed here. I read excerpts of Motherless Brooklyn in a Paris Review issue sometime ago.)

When does a job feel meaningful? 
Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others. Though we are often taught to think of ourselves as inherently selfish, the longing to act meaningfully in our work seems just as stubborn a part of our make-up as our appetite for status or money. 
It is because we are meaning-focused animals rather than simply materialistic ones that we can reasonably contemplate surrendering security for a career helping to bring drinking water to rural Malawi or might quit a job in consumer goods for one in cardiac nursing, aware that when it comes to improving the human condition, a well-controlled defiibrillator has the edge over even the finest biscuit. 
But we should wary of restricting the idea of meaningful work too tightly, of focusing only on the doctors, the nuns of Kolkata or the Old Masters. 
There can be less exalted ways to contribute to the furtherance of the collective good and it seems that making a perfectly formed stripey chocolate circle which helps to fill an impatient stomach in the long hours between nine o’ clock and noon may deserve its own secure, if microscopic place in the pantheon of innovations designed to alleviate the burdens of existence. 


— From The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton

From the Word Power Made Easy Dept. This same book helped me find a synonym for—of all words— electricity tower, which the British also call pylons. Check out An electricity tower by any other name.

Randall on reporters, great and otherwise



From the introduction of the Great Reporters by David Randall, who is currently an assistant editor and a columnist at the Independent on Sunday, a UK broadsheet. Besides having worked as a journalist in four continents, Randall is also the author of The Universal Journalist, one of the best books about the practice of journalism I have ever read. (I’ve read it twice and come back to it from time to time, especially when the journalism itch needs to be scratched.) Continue reading

Fischer on the trouble with Nietzsche’s dictum


Cover of The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer (First Scribner Paperback Fiction edition 1997)

As my hands were cuffed behind my back, and I had a zet at the footwear of my arresting officers, I couldn’t help hailing Nietzsche’s dictum, what does not kill me makes me stronger. One could add that what doesn’t kill you can be extremely uncomfortable and can give you a very nasty cold. I sneezed with no hands and discharged some nose marrow across the short distance between my nostrils and the gleaming footwear of the detective in charge of the operation, where it spread-eagled and made itself at home.
The trouble with Nietzche—who in any case never prescribed instructions regarding conduct while being hand-cuffed on chilly floors in undignified circumstances—is that you can never be sure when he’s doing some levity or not.
The Metropolitan Police had the same problem with me. They were hugely unconvinced by my responses to their questioning.

— from The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer, named by Granta Magazine as one of the best British novelists under 40 in 1994

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on drinking

A bunch of drinkers who refuse to be identified as Jonathan Perez (left) and Alexander T. Magno (right) at a now-defunct watering hole in Quezon City.

Another idea from Rory Sutherland: the U.K. guidelines for patients with mild problems coming from alcohol are to reduce the daily consumption to under a certain number of grams of alcohol per Continue reading

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on the Fragilista

Cover of Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

The fragilista belongs to that category of persons who are usually in suit and tie, often on Fridays; he faces your jokes with icy solemnity, and tends to develop back problems early in life from sitting at a desk, riding airplanes, and studying newspapers. He is often involved in a Continue reading