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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
From the Inside Flap
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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 ›
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.
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
I used this book as part of a qualitative analysis project in a graduate course. Very dense book, but very interesting. Read morePublished 19 days ago by J. Weber
Very interesting book about work as perceived by persons in different vocations. What work does to the spirit and the body.Published 1 month ago by L. Jonathan Marven
I dont need to laud this, it's got plenty of positive reviews. Interviews that stuck with me: yacht saleman and house cleaner.Published 3 months ago by Johnny
Such a trip back in time! How fun to read these interviews from "the future." Some of the conversations sounds so dated, while some of them sound like they could have... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Nancy B
Yes....I enjoyed it more than when I read it in college!!!Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer