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Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do Kindle Edition
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From the Inside Flap
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 --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B006CPAREQ
- Publisher : The New Press (July 26, 2011)
- Publication date : July 26, 2011
- Language : English
- File size : 1183 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 547 pages
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #100,090 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Louis "Studs" Terkel was a writer who liked people, especially people who worked hard for a living. Besides being one of heck of writer, he was also an actor, and radio personality. He received the Pulitzer for Literature in 1985 for "The Good War--An Oral History of World War Two". He was nicknamed "Studs" while acting in a play with another person named Louis. To keep the two straight, the director gave Terkel the nickname "Studs", after the fictional character he was playing—Studs Lonigan.
Besides interviewing common workers--coal minors, steel workers, janitors, itinerant farm workers, nurses, barbers, airline stewardesses, telephone operators, gravediggers, etc., he also interviewed people in high-end jobs--business executives, coaches, professional athletes, school teachers, lawyers, stock brokers, a studio head, and a media personality (film critic Pauline Kael). In particular, Ms Kael's comments about working people are most telling; she knew of the endless, mind-numbing hours of being a common worker, because earlier in her career she had been one. While this book is imminently quotable, I have chosen Ms. Kael's comments because they summarize best what it's like to be a bottom-level worker: "I've spent most of my life working at jobs I hated. I've worked at boring office jobs. I never felt they were demeaning, but they exhausted my energy and spirit. I do think that most people work at jobs that mechanize them and depersonalize them. . . ."
This book is endlessly fascinating, but at 589 pages takes time and patience to wade through. Still, if you've ever been a bottom-level worker, or wish to know what it's like, you will appreciate the truth that is contained in these pages. Five stars
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.
Even if people don't like their jobs, they're often proud of their personal ability, how fast they can complete a task, how accurately, tips they've learned through years of experience. They possess hard-won knowledge that took years to accumulate.
Laborers often see management as oppressors who play for a different team. They're to be thwarted in petty ways whenever the opportunity presents itself. It's often a game to occupy time or a way to build camaraderie amongst peers. "How can we get back at the Man?"
People recognize there own limitations and don't necessarily want to be treated as equals, but they do want to be respected, no matter what their station. They want others to recognize their value, that the product or service being offered by the company wouldn't be viable without their efforts. They know that society couldn't produce a steel beam or a car or serve hot meals to people who demand them if it weren't for them. These jobs lack status and glamour, but the world would stop without them.
The "old days" are always better, no matter what era you grew up in. Nostalgia for a better past is universal. There's a feeling that "back in my day, there was craft to the job, now work's just robotic or talentless." Also, "kids today!" and how they lack drive or commitment is a common refrain. There's nothing new under the sun.
40 years ago people were already complaining that the days of company loyalty were over, the idea that you could work for one firm for a lifetime and be rewarded or valued were a thing of the past.
Corporate life is empty, and corporate success an illusion. Big money managers are petrified of the hotshot youngster nipping at their heels, angling for their job. They worry about their age, that they're disposable once they're over 50. Executives report feeling a moral hollowness about their work. As one of the interviewees put it "in the business world, in order to do a better job, you have to become ruthless. In order to make more money, you have to care for people less. In order to succeed, you have to be willing to stab your competitor in the back."
People who have found ladder-climbing to be an empty pursuit stop hungering for status and no longer care about it. When that happens, they're free to pursue their heart's desire, or something that makes them feel like they're truly contributing to the world in a meaningful way, in a way beyond making profit for a corporation.
Many jobs are "too small for one's spirit." People need to feel challenged in order to be fulfilled. A job which is secure and pays adequately may mean complete misery if there's no challenge or sense of meaningful contribution.
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