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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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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
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Top Customer Reviews
"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.
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Absolutely fascinating book about the "common" man. Very insightful as only Studs could doPublished 2 months ago by R.L.D.
This is a fantastic book and I'm only 1/4 into it. The personal words by so many working people is a glimpse into life in the early 1980's before so many societal changes in modern... Read morePublished 6 months ago by D. Damico
I ordered this book because it was listed as used and very inexpensive. To my amazement, when it arrived, earlier than I expected, it appeared to be a brand new book, not a used... Read morePublished 6 months ago by David Reusserdhr528
As good as it gets. Turkel knew the working man and all he could teach us. His straight forward style of letting the characters do the speaking is the art of the "old"... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Douglas Dwyer
Good read. Didn't know the interviews happened so long ago, but enjoyed it nonetheless.Published 7 months ago by Bryan D Holzer
Wanna Change your career? Read about the people who have those jobsPublished 9 months ago by michemich