7 Feb 2019 05:48pm

Book reviews a good job too

Meetings are pointless, open-plan offices a disaster – Bruce Daisley’s irreverant take on our work culture is refreshingly useful

books joy of work 630
Caption: Image: Getty images

The title of Bruce Daisley’s business book may suggest Powerpoint slides of corporate indoctrination, but The Joy of Work is refreshingly irreverent. Daisley, the European vice-chair of Twitter and the host of the podcast Eat Sleep Work Repeat, is not here to tell you to run a half-marathon before your alarm goes off, or eat only Peruvian almonds for lunch, but to get eight hours’ sleep and take a break.

In short, Daisley is the Silicon Roundabout version of your mum. From plane crashes to botched surgeries, Daisley shows how hierarchy, interruptions and instant communication can get in the way of what truly provides satisfaction at work: doing a good job. He is scathing about open plan offices – a “disaster” – and argues in favour of allowing headphones at work and employees to go “off-grid” for a couple of hours, in the pursuit of deeper and better concentration.

In a chapter about lunch, he charts how our performance at work deteriorates over the day. Those who refuse to do less work, he suggests, are “experiencing a kind of Stockholm Syndrome”. Meetings are generally pointless, and Steve Jobs dropping an iPod prototype in a fish tank was not the sign of a genius, but a terrible manager.

With a nod to the march of the robots, Daisley also reflects on how to achieve creativity – the kind of skill least likely to be usurped by automation. Yet the stressful conditions of the modern workplace, he argues, are counterproductive: to be truly creative, you need to be relaxed. “We’re in a double bind,” he writes. The Joy of Work is packed full of practical suggestions, but it is this insight that may make it most useful for the harassed middle manager: next time you ignore a late-night email, it’s for the company’s own good.

Julia Rampen is a writer and editor specialising in culture, politics and finance. She currently writes for the New Statesman

Around the world in 80 trains

Monisha Rajesh, Bloomsbury

In her opening chapter, Monisha Rajesh, who previously crisscrossed India by train, looks at a world map and imagines how “the next seven months of my life unwind around the globe”. It’s hard not to envy her. Yet this travel book, which sees Rajesh and her fiancé catch trains everywhere from New Orleans to Thailand, is satisfying armchair reading. There are no Instagram filters here – Rajesh is groped on the Trans-Mongolian express, ignored by wealthy tourists on The Canadian and plagued with guilt on a high-speed train to Tibet.

The reward for this discomfort is a travelogue that veers off the usual tracks. One of the most entertaining sections is Rajesh’s trip around the US, where her fellow passengers are far from the typical American motorists. And she offers a fascinating introduction to the 21st century’s answer to the Trans-Siberian, the rapidly-expanding high-speed Chinese rail network.

Although there are too few technical details to satisfy trainspotters, Around the World in 80 Trains is a rumination on the interconnectedness of the world. But other times, the view from the train is limited. Looking out of the window in North Korea, Rajesh questions the peaceful countryside, “wanting desperately not to be duped”.