A WEEK AT THE AIRPORT by Alain de Botton


A Heathrow Diary
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An unfiltered meditation on the airport, a space that de Botton (The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 2009, etc.) argues is representative of humanity's philosophical outlook.

While spending a week in London's Heathrow Airport as its first “writer-in-residence,” the author was given a desk positioned in the departures hall, generous access to the airport's nooks and crannies and a room at the adjacent hotel, all with the expectation that he would compose a book on-site. The result is this slim, lighthearted volume, which is often punctuated with wry observations about things most travelers don't think twice about—e.g., the assembly of in-flight meals or the popularity of thrillers at the airport bookstores (“High above the earth, [passengers] were looking to panic about being murdered, and thereby to forget their more mundane fears”). The author synthesizes hundreds of these small details into a sociological report, concluding that the airport encompasses many of the tenets of modern culture. Whether it's our increased reliance on technology—from the automated check-in to the fantastically complicated management of coded flight patterns—the simple comfort of being greeted at the arrivals gate or the erection of a new, aesthetically adventurous terminal designed by Richard Rogers, the details of an airport reflect human ambition and desire. De Botton also doesn't miss the opportunity to include a few witticisms about the contrast between the life of an author and that of an airline pilot: “I would never be able to acquire the virtues that I so admired in them...and must instead forever remain a hesitant and inadequate creature who would almost certainly start weeping if asked to land a 777 amid foggy ground conditions in Newfoundland.” In addition to the author's musings, each page is adorned with an accompanying full-color photograph by Richard Baker, lending visual evidence that is especially welcome when de Botton explores the areas of Heathrow that are off-limits to the average traveler, like the corporate offices of British Airways’ CEO or the middle of an airstrip at midnight. Not surprisingly, it is often in these behind-the-scenes moments that the author's perceptions are especially keen.

Enjoyable and informative—perfect in-flight reading.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-73967-4
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Vintage
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2010


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