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Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do Paperback – February 28, 1997


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Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do + How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (February 28, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565843428
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565843424
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

A deep penetration of American thought and feeling . . . A celebration of individuals . . . A masterpiece. -- Los Angeles Times

An enormous amount of exciting material. . . . An incredible abundance of marvelous beings. . . . A very special electricity and emotional power. -- The New York Times Book Review

An impressive achievement . . . A very valuable document. No journalist alive wields a tape recorded as effectively as Studs Terkel. -- Newsweek

Remarkable . . . the range is enormous. . . . Work is the theme and we learn a lot about these trades. -- The Wall Street Journal

Splendid . . . Important . . . Rich and fascinating . . . The people we meet are not digits in a poll but real people with real names who share their anecdotes, adventures, and aspirations with us. -- Business Week

The real American experience . . . The poetry of real people . . . The hardness of real lives . . . A grand subject and a splendid book. -- Chicago Daily News

[A] magnificent book . . .. A work of art. To read it is to hear America talking. -- Boston Globe

From the Inside Flap

Studs Turkel records the voices of America. Men and women from every walk of life talk to him, telling him of their likes and dislikes, fears, problems, and happinesses on the job. Once again, Turkel has created a rich and unique document that is as simple as conversation, but as subtle and heartfelt as the meaning of our lives.... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Studs Terkel (1912-2008) was a free spirit, an outspoken populist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a terrible ham, and one of the best-loved characters on the American scene. Born in New York in 1912, he lived in Chicago for over eight decades. His radio show was carried on stations throughout the country.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Reading this book was ultimately life changing.
J. Mullins
Work is seen as something we have to do, and few of us seem to find a job that we like or enjoy.
M. Humes
I pick it up every year and read a random section, put it back down, and pick it up again.
Scott R

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Yaumo Gaucho on October 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
I had always meant to read "Working," but had never gotten around to it. Then I picked up another book loosely based on it ("Gig"), so decided to get the original "Working" as well.
"Working" is moving and brilliant and a million times better than "Gig." Somehow, Terkel lets the people do their own talking, but it's never monotonous, never repetitive, and they always have profound things to say. Reading these people tell their stories is mesmerizing. Terkel steps in just the right amount, organizing the stories into themes (sometimes very creative ones), but never drowning out his interviewees' voices.
Although "Working" came out in 1972, it feels surprisingly recent. The world of work hasn't changed all that much in thirty years. Still relevant, still entertaining, still thought-provoking. And the professions are indexed in the back, so one needn't read them in order.
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101 of 110 people found the following review helpful By Barbara R. Saunders on October 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
I feel compelled to respond to brothersjudddotcom.
Nowhere in Terkel's book do I get the notion that he believes people "don't want to work." I imagine Terkel loves his own work. The subject of the book is the way that most jobs (even "good" jobs) have become dehumanizing. Robotizing.
One of his interviewees, a filmmaker, comments on an "educational film" she saw, one intended to inspire "ghetto kids" to pursue their dreams. She remarks that the "most (financially) successful" subject in the film, a businessman, spoke about his money and his possessions while a "less successful" sculptor led a tour of his studio and spoke about his actual work. She says that she feel people are being deprived of the potential joys in work when we are trained to focus too much on status and salary.
He also interviews actor Rip Torn, who laments that actors are expected to be "shills" to tailor their performances to the selling of products. For example, Torn tells a story about being required to smoke cigarettes rather than cigars in a particular role. Historically, the character would not have smoked cigarettes; the sponsor was a cigarette company. Torn felt that both his art and his intelligence, as well as that of the audience, were sold out by this demand.
Far from being "badly dated," Terkel's critique is monstrously accurate today. Now, as contrasted with the 1970s, in many families, both parents "devote" 10+ hours to power games at work at the expense of family time, personal health, community, etc.
I believe that Terkel believes meaningful work to be essential to the human spirit. Problem is, as amount of work increases, meaning seems to be decreasing.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Scott R on July 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
Working has been my favorite book - likely the book that had the most implicit impact on the way I think - for many years. I pick it up every year and read a random section, put it back down, and pick it up again. Real stories, genuinely collected.
The comments are interesting - everyone interprets what Terkel gathered in a way that meets their own worldview. Not too surprising, but read it yourself, and draw your own conclusions - maybe even new ones.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Michael Noga on March 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
Studs Terkel wanted to write a book about working for a living. So he sat down with a grocery store cashier and interviewed her about her job. He didn't ask very many questions; he just turned on a tape recorder and let her pour her heart out. She explained what she did for a living, how and why she came to do it, what she liked and disliked about her job. She talked about the little dramas and boredom that filled her working hours and the toll it took on her private life. When she was finished talking she had created a vivid "snapshot" with words of what it's like to work as a grocery store cashier.

Then Studs interviewed a bartender, a teacher, a pro athlete and dozens of other people from dozens of professions. They each created in their own words unique self-portraits of themselves at work. The book Working is like an art gallery filled with these detailed self-portraits.

And just like strolling through an art gallery looking at paintings will give you a feel for the visions of a variety of artists, reading Working will give you a taste of the flavor of the working lives of it's subjects.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 8, 1998
Format: Paperback
Working profiles the working lives of scores of Americans. From prostitute to chief executive, coal mine worker to major league ballplayer- a myriad of professions are covered. The book reads like a documentary (which it is). Terkel has included the most interesting aspects of each case study's working life, and ultimately you see why each continues to pursue their career in that chosen field- or at least what satisfaction they get from showing up everyday. It's a great book to pick up and spend 5 to 10 minutes or so reading about how someone else's working life has parallels to your own. The interviews were conducted mostly during the late 60's and early 70's but while it is slightly dated, even that fact makes for an interesting historical perspective.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Gary Schroeder on November 3, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Studs Terkel's classic book "Working" is nothing more than a large volume of transcribed confessions of working people. The concept is deceptively simple, but what it reveals about a common activity that unites all of humanity is often truly surprising. Do you hate your job? Guess what. Most people do! Terkel gets workers from waitresses and steel workers to dentists and ad executives to confess what's really in their souls and how they really feel about what they do to make a buck. The surprise is how universal many of the feelings we have about our jobs truly are.

One of the most striking things to me is how little has changed in the intervening 40 years since the interviews contained in "Working" were first collected. When describing work, nostalgia runs rampant among Americans. We look back longingly to the days when America was a mighty manufacturing powerhouse, when we domestically produced much of what we consume. We often think about steel or car manufacturing through a gauzy haze. "Working" clears the haze away and reveals a far less rosy truth: manufacturing work is often robotic, dehumanizing, and physically punishing. Men who do this work have no love for it and their bodies often pay a steep price for it. They didn't view it as romantic or noble then and they probably don't now. It's just a means to make a living wage.

Of the dozens (and dozens) of interviews in the book, a series of common themes are present. Here are the ones that caught my attention.

There's a recognition among long-time workers that profit is king over all. The people who produce product are mere cogs in the machine.

Everyone has a secret dream job, what they imagine they'd rather be doing, where things would be better somehow.
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