on October 13, 2001
Studs Terkel wanted to write a book about working for a living. So he sat down with a grocery store cashier and interviewed her about her job. He didn't ask very many questions; he just turned on a tape recorder and let her pour her heart out. She explained what she did for a living, how and why she came to do it, what she liked and disliked about her job. She talked about the little dramas and boredom that filled her working hours and the toll it took on her private life. When she was finished talking she had created a vivid "snapshot" with words of what it's like to work as a grocery store cashier.
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.
on December 18, 2002
First of all this book was absolutely fabulous. It makes you stop and think about the way that you treat the average working class person. That may help you EVERYDAY yet, some never stop to awknowledge them. Think about it? When was the last time that you said thank you to the Bagger at the local grocery store, or the guy at the gas station? How about the last time that you said hello to the person at the drive-through window? The postman? Have you ever thought of writing a letter to a company that has brought you products since you were a little child? These people help us continue with our everyday lives, yet we do not awknowledge them, thank them, or commend them on a job that would get done if they were not there. Instead we look down upon them, our kids do not want to become them, yet thousands of people go to work everyday loathing their jobs, because they never seem to get a pat on the back, a smile, or a simple thanks. This book has made me want to go back in time and thank every person that is apart of the working claas, that has ever helped me.
on May 31, 2000
The drugstore owner, the hooker, the ex-stockbroker and steel worker, the nurse, the school teacher, etc., all these people have committed their working life's experience to tape from which Studs Terkel then puts this great book together. And whilst the stories are all fascinating, they do seem to suffer from a kind of homogeneous quality, as if, no matter who the interviewee is, the characters' voices all seem to sound like the same person, only the details determining their sex or experience, adding any differentiation. A minor point, I know, but it tends to veil the individuals beneath a worn down resignedness of whether their experiences were good, bad, or so, so.
I was alerted to this book when reading a Stephen King article about banned books in American colleges, this being one of them, after a school kid used it as the basis for a homework exercise and his mother threw a fit over it. I can't see why myself, but there you are.
Working, is nearly thirty years old now. Nonetheless, its just as relevant today as when Studs Terkel wrote it. And fine reading it is, too.
on June 13, 2004
What is America? A funny-shaped badge on a map? Britney Spears, McDonalds, Nike, and the Statue of Liberty? The Declaration of Independence? The New York Yankees?
It's the people that make America America. How well do you know what the average person thinks and feels about work and values and life in general?
Studs Terkel's Working is the closest you can get to seeing the soul of America. In a penetrating series of interviews, you are taken inside the lives of the ordinary American-and you discover how extraordinary each and every life is.
All classes of people from all types of professions (from the washroom attendant to the international executive to the prostitute) and all different personalities are here. And if you don't like it? Tough! It's truth. The interviews are straightforward and candid, often shocking and rarely dull, revealing all the best and worst of human striving. What more do you want?
on December 18, 2002
This is a great book. It shows how real people feel about the job that they perform by interviewing them. Terkel describes his legacy of taped interviews this way: "It's the ordinary people, so called, who have things that they wanted to say all their lives, so this is something of a treasury I'd say." You read about it all, from waiters to teachers, from people who play sports to the people who work in offices. You learn that in order to be happy in life you must follow your dream and not do something based on status or salary. Many times people are being deprived of the potential joys in work when we are trained to focus too much on status and salary. Its better to wake up every morning looking forward to working than living a life full of regrets.
on January 25, 2003
I found this book sitting tattered on a bookshelf while staying at a bed and breakfast in Tennessee. I could not put this book down and would recommend it to anyone who feels alone when issues come up regarding work and how it affects their lives. Although written in the early 70's, this book speaks of many issues that confront workers today.
on October 24, 2001
I feel compelled to respond to brothersjudddotcom.
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.
on October 6, 2000
I had always meant to read "Working," but had never gotten around to it. Then I picked up another book loosely based on it ("Gig"), so decided to get the original "Working" as well.
"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.
on April 8, 1998
Working profiles the working lives of scores of Americans. From prostitute to chief executive, coal mine worker to major league ballplayer- a myriad of professions are covered. The book reads like a documentary (which it is). Terkel has included the most interesting aspects of each case study's working life, and ultimately you see why each continues to pursue their career in that chosen field- or at least what satisfaction they get from showing up everyday. It's a great book to pick up and spend 5 to 10 minutes or so reading about how someone else's working life has parallels to your own. The interviews were conducted mostly during the late 60's and early 70's but while it is slightly dated, even that fact makes for an interesting historical perspective.
on July 27, 2003
Working has been my favorite book - likely the book that had the most implicit impact on the way I think - for many years. I pick it up every year and read a random section, put it back down, and pick it up again. Real stories, genuinely collected.
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.