A week at the airport: A Heathrow diary by Alain De Botton

After seeing Alain De Botton’s amazing lecture at the Melbourne Town Hall on his latest book “Religion for Atheists” I decided to read some more Botton literature.

This short book of 60 pages is a very structured philosophical “diary” about all matters of Heathrow airport. Botton spent a week at an open desk in Terminal 5 being the “writer-in-residence” and sleeping at the airport hotel. It’s a unique idea to spend so much time examining the human condition in an in between place that is not always that pleasant. Botton writes with a wry and intelligent wit, putting little background stories of travellers. He says an awful lot in 60 pages, words coupled with photographs and referencing to literature or philosophy. As always it is an education about humans.

Botton explains about the fascinating process of your microwave airplane meal, drones on a little bit too much about airport architecture (which he is a lover of, but I’m not fazed by) and conveys the importance of religion even in an airport with holy rooms and a roaming airport priest.

“They come to me when they are lost,” the Reverend replied at last, emphasising the final word so that it seemed to reflect the spiritual confusion of mankind, a hapless race of being described by St Augustine as “pilgrims in the City of Earth until they can join the City of God.”

“Yes, but what might they be feeling lost about?”

“Oh,” said the Reverend with a sigh, “they are almost always looking for the toilets.”

My favourite parts of the book were conceptualisation of human emotion, the raw emotion expressed when Botton watched loved ones reuniting. It made me feel goose-bumpy and a little teary. But a good teary.

“Out of the millions of people we live among, most of whom we habitually ignore and we are ignored by in turn, there are always a few who hold hostage our capacity for happiness, whom we could recognised by their smell alone and whom we would rather die than be without…”

What Botton highlights in his book is something that we can all relate to when visiting an airport. It is not just another place but a place hidden with context, meaning and history. I love that Botton has written such an interesting book about a somewhat boring place. Although his writing is not always as absorbing and entertaining as his lectures – he is a damn fine speaker –  it is worth a look at and will only demand a few hours of your time to complete.



Filed under Uncategorized, writing

5 responses to “A week at the airport: A Heathrow diary by Alain De Botton

  1. Oh – I wish I had known he was speaking! I’m jealous.
    Lovely review. I’ll have to see if I can pick up a copy.

  2. GailWrites

    I am also impressed by writers who can encapsulate a somewhat mundane event and invite their readers to view the experience from a new vantage point. The same is true for comedy, as in Seinfeld. It’s a rare talent to transform the commonplace to a form of entertainment.

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