Working

People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do
by Studs Terkel

I can\’t remember the last time it took me so long to read a book. The length alone is not the cause. This book is an oral history, a compilation of essays, so it was easy to dip in and out of it without loosing focus. It\’s made up of interviews, where people from all across the nation, from all walks of life and all types of occupations, discuss what they do for a living. Some are proud of their work, others feel it\’s a meaningless grind. Their words express sorrow, longing, frustration, hope, contentment, even on occasion irresponsibility and there was one guy who sounded downright crazy. He was very much the square peg in a round hole. Working was published in the early seventies and this one essay I\’m thinking of was a young hippy-type guy talking about how he\’d do things at the office that others perceived as subversive. From simply wearing his hair long and ignoring the dress code to meditating in the middle of an office floor, just sitting there would work other people up into a fit! It was very amusing to read his words but also a bit alarming- for someone who professed to be a pacifist he sure did talk about violence a lot.

Anyway, you\’ll find here the words of firemen, chefs, doctors, store clerks, truck drivers, family farmers, business executives, waitresses, traveling salesmen, nurses, miners and factory workers, just about anything you can imagine people doing. Mechanics. Housewives. Hotel owners. Cabdrivers. Stockbrokers. Insurance and car salesmen. Doormen, policemen, mail carriers, meter readers, barbers, even a prostitute. And more. I think my favorite was the segment about the work of a bookbinder! Very interesting. Some interviews pair the voices of fathers and sons next to each other, or of husband and wife. People who have their dream job, a position they\’ve worked hard for. Others who don\’t quite know how they ended up in that occupation but are stuck with it. People new to the country and those who had been here for generations. Old people looking back at the end of a lifelong career, young people talking about change and the future. Some get into discussing unions, organization and workers rights and strikes; others discuss prejudice and how the way people treat you or perceive your job can make it feel demeaning; yet others talk about the satisfaction of physical labor, of creating a well-made product, of serving people the best way they can.

Particularly interesting was to read the book with an attention to its time frame; a lot of the older generation in it talk about how things have changed since the Depression era, or since the thirties when they were young; but their description of how things were in their now (the seventies) compared to my now (the 21st century) gave it another perspective altogether. It is a fascinating book, a lively tome full of rich, varied voices. Recommended.

rating: 4/5 …….. 589 pages, 1972

4 Responses

  1. I've had this on my shelves for a while but it's hard to carry a book like this around now that I take subways instead of driving myself places. I loved this book Gig that has a similar structure (but closer to our \”now\”), so I know I'm going to enjoy this.

  2. Jenny- it is very hefty. I did not carry it many places but mostly read it at home. He's written one in the same style about the Great Depression that I'm eager to read, but not anytime soon I'm afraid!

  3. I just recently read the one he did on the Great Depression–Hard Times. It took me a while to read as well, but I could read it in bits and pieces. It really shows the diversity of experiences and different perspectives of those living through the Depression. Working sounds good, but I think I will wait a while too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL:

Subscribe to my blog:

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

VIEW MY PERSONAL COLLECTION:

TRADE BOOKS WITH ME ON:

ARCHIVES: 

2023
January 2023 (27)February 2023 (2)
2022
January 2022 (12)February 2022 (7)March 2022 (13)April 2022 (16)May 2022 (13)June 2022 (21)July 2022 (15)August 2022 (27)September 2022 (10)October 2022 (17)November 2022 (16)December 2022 (23)
2021
January 2021 (14)February 2021 (13)March 2021 (14)April 2021 (7)May 2021 (10)June 2021 (5)July 2021 (10)August 2021 (27)September 2021 (16)October 2021 (11)November 2021 (14)December 2021 (12)
2020
January 2020 (14)February 2020 (6)March 2020 (10)April 2020 (1)May 2020 (10)June 2020 (15)July 2020 (13)August 2020 (26)September 2020 (10)October 2020 (9)November 2020 (16)December 2020 (22)
2019
January 2019 (12)February 2019 (9)March 2019 (5)April 2019 (10)May 2019 (9)June 2019 (6)July 2019 (18)August 2019 (13)September 2019 (13)October 2019 (7)November 2019 (5)December 2019 (18)
2018
January 2018 (17)February 2018 (18)March 2018 (9)April 2018 (9)May 2018 (6)June 2018 (21)July 2018 (12)August 2018 (7)September 2018 (13)October 2018 (15)November 2018 (10)December 2018 (13)
2017
January 2017 (19)February 2017 (12)March 2017 (7)April 2017 (4)May 2017 (5)June 2017 (8)July 2017 (13)August 2017 (17)September 2017 (12)October 2017 (15)November 2017 (14)December 2017 (11)
2016
January 2016 (5)February 2016 (14)March 2016 (5)April 2016 (6)May 2016 (14)June 2016 (12)July 2016 (11)August 2016 (11)September 2016 (11)October 2016 (9)November 2016 (1)December 2016 (3)
2015
January 2015 (9)February 2015 (9)March 2015 (11)April 2015 (10)May 2015 (10)June 2015 (2)July 2015 (12)August 2015 (13)September 2015 (16)October 2015 (13)November 2015 (10)December 2015 (14)
2014
January 2014 (14)February 2014 (11)March 2014 (5)April 2014 (15)May 2014 (12)June 2014 (17)July 2014 (22)August 2014 (19)September 2014 (10)October 2014 (19)November 2014 (14)December 2014 (14)
2013
January 2013 (25)February 2013 (28)March 2013 (18)April 2013 (21)May 2013 (12)June 2013 (7)July 2013 (13)August 2013 (25)September 2013 (24)October 2013 (17)November 2013 (18)December 2013 (20)
2012
January 2012 (21)February 2012 (19)March 2012 (9)April 2012 (23)May 2012 (31)June 2012 (21)July 2012 (19)August 2012 (16)September 2012 (4)October 2012 (2)November 2012 (7)December 2012 (19)
2011
January 2011 (26)February 2011 (22)March 2011 (18)April 2011 (11)May 2011 (6)June 2011 (7)July 2011 (10)August 2011 (9)September 2011 (14)October 2011 (13)November 2011 (15)December 2011 (22)
2010
January 2010 (27)February 2010 (19)March 2010 (20)April 2010 (24)May 2010 (22)June 2010 (24)July 2010 (31)August 2010 (17)September 2010 (18)October 2010 (11)November 2010 (13)December 2010 (19)
2009
January 2009 (23)February 2009 (26)March 2009 (32)April 2009 (22)May 2009 (18)June 2009 (26)July 2009 (34)August 2009 (31)September 2009 (30)October 2009 (23)November 2009 (26)December 2009 (18)
2008
January 2008 (35)February 2008 (26)March 2008 (33)April 2008 (15)May 2008 (29)June 2008 (29)July 2008 (29)August 2008 (34)September 2008 (29)October 2008 (27)November 2008 (27)December 2008 (24)
2007
August 2007 (12)September 2007 (28)October 2007 (27)November 2007 (28)December 2007 (14)
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
1999
1998
1997
1996
1995
1994
1993
1992
1991
1990
1989
1988
1987
1986
1985
1984
1983
1982
1981
1980
1979
1978
1977
1976
1975
1974
1973
1972
1971
1970
1969
1968
1967
1966
1965
1964
1963
1962
1961
1960
1959
1958
1957
1956
1955
1954
1953
1952
1951
1950