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Working Stiff's Manifesto: A Memoir [Kindle Edition]

Iain Levison
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Iain Levison can find work but not fulfillment. The frustration of dead-end, deadhead labor induces a kind of pink-slip payback syndrome as the realization sets in that his college degree will gain him little by way of psychic wages on the job. He is adrift in a workaday world where one human is as good as the next and all are expendable. Meaningless promises abound, "like when they were telling us [at commencement that] we were the future of the world, the bright shining blah blah blah."

In ten years, Iain Levison has lived in six states and worked at forty-two jobs, from fish cutter in Alaska to furniture mover in North Carolina, film-set gopher, oil deliveryman, truck driver, crab fisherman . . . He quit thirty of them, got fired from nine, and has difficulty remembering the other three. Whatever could go wrong often did, hilariously.

A Working Stiff's Manifesto makes Nickel and Dimed look like chump change. It is a funny book about the not-so-funny American workplace. The real thing, written not by a high-priced journalist disguised as a counter clerk, or a tenured professor passing as a vagrant, but by a genuine wage-dependent, red-blooded working stiff too "rich" for welfare and too broke to fit a consumer demographic. He works to keep his car running to get back and forth from work. He works to get by and get back to square one for the next day's labors.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Levison is a "modern-day Tom Joad" who, over the last decade, has worked 42 jobs in six different states, including mover, fish cutter, cook, caterer and cable TV thief. He recalls those jobs in this entertaining, unusual mix of autobiography and social commentary reminiscent of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Levison imagines himself a new breed of itinerant laborer a college graduate with a $40,000 English degree. His America is a desperate and brutal country, a place where you're hired with a promise of insurance after 90 days, then fired on the 89th; where criminals beat each other to a pulp in Alaska fisheries, and truckers make fraudulent entries in their logbooks in order to keep up with impossible schedules. But Levison's droll sense of humor eases him (and his readers) through the tough times; he recalls catering a party and bleeding into the guests' Merlot, expounds on the definition of "r sum " ("the French term for 'page full of bullshit' ") and proposes a new motto for Dutch Harbor, Alaska ("What fatal flaw in your character made you wind up here?"). As both a writer and an employee, Levison can come off as a trifle obnoxious some of his workplace misfortune he definitely brings on himself and he's mercilessly scornful of the corporate yes-men and unscrupulous characters he works with. Yet his moral vision more than makes up for it; he's a sharp-eyed, impassioned critic of the American workplace. (Apr.) Forecast: Although any book that targets itself toward people without a steady paycheck would seem to be doomed, Levison's just might do well, given today's high unemployment rates and the book's undeniable originality.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A college graduate with a degree in English, Levison has held 42 jobs in the past ten years. He quit 30 of those jobs, was fired from nine, and can't remember the other three. He is currently unemployed. This 164-page screed details his employment history, but it is obvious that Levison's problem is as much his attitude as the poor market for college graduates. He declares an English degree is only good for secretarial work (ignoring such jobs as public relations and journalism), and he applies for jobs for which he clearly is not qualified and seems surprised when they don't work out. Most of the positions he has held are low-wage, dead-end jobs (e.g., Alaskan fish cutter, furniture mover, heating oil deliveryman, etc.), but he makes little effort to improve his lot. Moving up, Levison observes, is "asking for trouble." His employment history is an entertaining read, but there is no reflection or analysis that would be useful to others. Not recommended. Christopher Brennan, SUNY Coll. at Brockport
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 267 KB
  • Print Length: 188 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1569472807
  • Publisher: Soho Press (July 1, 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009Y3OGX6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,368,429 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cynical reconciliation with impotence April 23, 2002
Format:Hardcover
Despite what the title might suggest, "A Working Stiff's Manifesto" is hardly a proletarian call to arms. This social commentary/memoir does live up to it's title in that it focuses on the fate of the average working "stiff" to continually tread water and the probability that there is little he can do to alter it.
The tone of this book is in harmony with Faludi's "Stiffed", Ehrenreich's "Nickle and Dimed", and Moore's "Downsize This". There is little humor here, other than that derived from irony. Levison's opinions have greatly enhanced credibility because they are based upon his own personal experiences shifting from from one low wage job to another struggling to get by.
The power of this work is in the irony it depicts. He very effectively describes how hard work and loyalty are no longer of value to employers, and the average worker is callously treated and continually reminded that he is entirely expendible. Workers are treated as if they have little intelligence and aren't worthy of dignity and respect; when initially enticed with courtesy and enthusiasm in all likelihood those lures are deceits employed to exploit or fleece them.
Levison simply presents his examples, which range from working in a "chi chi" Scarsdale gourmet grocery to an Alaskan seafood processor, in a straightforward, unembellished fashion. His depiction of the absurdity of drug tests and employment questionnaires in light of the recruitment pool drawn by the salaries is one of the many great ironies highlighted by his anecdotes.
He devotes a substantial part of the book depicting the fishing and seafood processing industry in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. His descriptions are interesting, and in some ways grimly reminsicent of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich".
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh-out-loud funny look at American workplace June 5, 2002
Format:Hardcover
Don't let the title fool you...this book is laugh-out-loud funny, a true glimpse into how draining it is, both financially and emotionally, to hold a low-wage job in today's economy. Levison takes on a journey through the bottom rungs of America's workforce, describing, with both humor and accuracy, the misery inherent in jobs which do not provide the workers with a living wage. His descriptions of corporate manipulation at something as innocuous as an upscale Scarsdale grocery store, or a corporate restaurant, ring true on every level, as he describes the relentlessness with which the mangement insists on pleasantness. It reminded me of the "flair" scene from the movie "Office Space."
The descriptions of the Alaskan fishing industry are both interesting and frequently hilarious. Nothing misses this writer's sharp, ironic eye.
This book is a must read for everyone who ever feels they are being manipulated or treated like a number at their jobs. Great Stuff!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Case Study From the Human Condition July 2, 2002
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I heard or read that Kalfa's buddies would howl with delight as he read them passages from "The Trial" when it was a work in-progress; likewise, prisoners at San Quenton never enjoyed themselves more than watching a performance of "Waiting for Godot." I can only recommend this wonderful little memoir as my contribution to this list. My twenties were somewhat similar to Levinson's misadventures although not in scope and insight, still I identified immediately with his odyssey. The book is well written to boot and I plan to read it every decade or so to see what more I can derive. By the way, ignore the poor guy who lambasted this book a few reviews back with comments such as "How to blame everyone but yourself for your problems." There is not an ounce of this anywhere; all Levison wants is fair play after he gets a job and his futile quest to find it is where this story gets it's motivation. If you need one line to summarize, then try this on for size: It's a story about the misuse of power done with great satire. Great read!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He hits the nail on the head November 11, 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I too wondered (as another reviewer did) why Mr. Levison, during the years he was doing these make-do jobs, didn't continue to pursue work using the writing skills he obviously has. Maybe he did, and just worked "in the meantime". I also don't recall details of his financial obligations--family, housing, education loans, etc.--which is to say, his bottom-line needs. Granted--working full time does not leave a whole lot of hours free for job hunting, and the economy and employment situations in the US has been a roller coaster ride for many years.
But there is truth within his observations, and he writes it like it is. He offers a perspective on what is the working reality for many decent, hard-working people. Work at this level has become a game (on both sides). I think it helps to consciously be aware of that. He presents these sad realities with great humor and irony! An easy, quick, entertaining and informative little book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! . October 4, 2002
Format:Hardcover
This has been the first book I've read cover to cover in one sitting in over a year. Like the author, I've had a hard time finding a job which paid a livable wage and didn't make me feel humiliated or exhausted at the end of every day, and, like the author, I've been to water-filter meetings.
The part where he describes the water filter meeting, a multi-level marketing scam which has trapped so many people looking for a way out, was the best written and funniest part of the book. Levison has a way of describing situations with humor, but still reminds the reader how frustrating it is to have to deal with these situations day in and day out. When I was done, I had not only laughed myself sore, I had been made to feel like I wasn't the only person who was having trouble getting any respect out of an economy which seemed to promise so much and deliver so little.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing - Unputdownable
I just got hooked on the first page. You know some authors can do that. They write very simple sentences, but they draw you right in. Read more
Published on September 11, 2008 by Suvro Ghosh
5.0 out of 5 stars Reality Bites * Hysterical = A Great Book
I haven't laughed so hard or felt so sympathetic reading a book before. A perfect mix of irony and sarcasm to get the point accross about how tough it is out there without getting... Read more
Published on March 6, 2007 by Bubba Gazinski
4.0 out of 5 stars Tony Robbins he is not...
If you're looking for a self-help guide or something bright & shiny to help you feel better about your ambitious climb up the corporate ladder- this isn't it. Read more
Published on July 10, 2006 by Christopher D'Errico
3.0 out of 5 stars Is your life easy?
I knew the author, having somewhat grown up with him. I found similarities in his life, and my own. Read more
Published on January 21, 2006 by Thomas W. Stevens
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious and True
If you've ever been caught in that nether world of "temporary employment" then Iain Levison speaks for you. This book is relatively short (164 pages). Read more
Published on November 29, 2005 by Russell Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully funny!! Encore, please????
I really loved this book. It's one of the few that I felt the need to read multiple times. I find the author, whether he's being serious or funny, to be a riot. Read more
Published on October 27, 2005 by V. Messner
4.0 out of 5 stars An absolute must-read for the working stiff
If you've suffered the travails of working one dead end job after another, whether you've got a college degree or not, then you'll recognize (all too well) the feelings described... Read more
Published on May 27, 2005 by Kcorn
3.0 out of 5 stars Slimey yet satifying?
Though I found this book a fun and fast read, it left me a bit unsatisfied. I greatly sympathized and could relate to his stories, however, I felt that he didn't leave any great... Read more
Published on August 20, 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars You Can Only Sympathize If You've Been There
Please read the book for yourself (borrow it from the library if you must) rather than going with other's opinions of it. Read more
Published on April 29, 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but strains credulity
I really enjoyed "A Working Stiff's Manifesto". I would have enjoyed it even more if I didn't have a constant, nagging feeling that Levison was taking liberties with the... Read more
Published on December 7, 2002
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