Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do
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Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  2,832 ratings  ·  245 reviews
Studs Terkel records the voices of America. Men and women from every walk of life talk to him, telling him of their likes and dislikes, fears, problems, and happinesses on the job. Once again, Terkel has created a rich and unique document that is as simple as conversation, but as subtle and heartfelt as the meaning of our lives.... In the first trade paperback edition of h...more
Paperback, 640 pages
Published February 28th 1997 by New Press, The (first published 1974)
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All Creatures Great and Small by James HerriotNickel and Dimed by Barbara EhrenreichKitchen Confidential by Anthony BourdainWorking by Studs TerkelAll Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
A Day in the Life: Work Memoirs
4th out of 376 books — 231 voters
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Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
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like any studs terkel book, you start off like "wow, everyone has a story" and then 400 pages later you're like "jesus, EVERYONE has a story."
This book was to some degree a political gesture when it was written--a radical reassessment of which lives are worth documenting and which voices worth being heard--but it would be a shame to read it that way.

What this book is is what life feels like during the hours you don't choose for yourself--as told by airline stewardesses, union bosses, factory workers, CEOs, car salesmen, whatever--and there's as much humanity in here as in any novel. It is also, incidentally, insanely useful source ma...more
My shittiest jobs, in order:

1) For one summer, at the Northeastern Illinois University library, I wrote tiny symbols on adhesive labels. Later I attached these labels to government documents.

2) Brown’s Chicken.

3. Mrs. Field’s Cookies.

I’ve often said that my primary motivation for attending college involved avoiding meaningless employment. I’m one of those people who grows near suicidal if I have to do rote tasks for the money necessary for food and shelter. I’m flat-out scared of a shitty job....more
Studs Terkel opens Working with one of the most stirring sentences I have read of late: "This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence - to the spirit as well as to the body." And although Terkel's voice and narration are only present for the following 13 pages of the Introduction, giving way to 600 pages of the voices of others, the power of his intent resonates through to the back cover.

Those remaining 600 pages are direct transcriptions from the stories told to Terkel b...more
Niki Haworth
I think that in today's climate of reality TV and everyone trying to sell their story or seek their "15 minutes" that the interviews for this book couldn't have been done with the un-selfconsciousness with which they were done 30-plus years ago.
Victory Wong
Short little 1/2-4 page interviews with people about their jobs. There is the stockbroker that admits getting into the stocks is going to have you losing money, the housewife, the executive secretary (this was published n the 70s), the mason, hotel operator, newspaper carrier.... It's interesting esp because it also is a glimpse into 30 years ago but also just intersting for people to talk about their work. Not everyone's happy, not everyone's unhappy with their jobs but Stud Terkel does an admi...more
I'm a fan of both Studs Terkel and of oral histories, so this book was a win-win for me. Terkel interviews people from all walks of life about the work that they do and how they feel about their occupations. And the interviews range from the humorous to the truly sad. It's apparent in these short oral histories that Terkel isn't making judgments about certain occupations. Instead, he seems genuinely interested in what people do and how they perceive their jobs. However, the fact that this book w...more
A stunning look at America in the 1970's. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at some of the depictions of these hard-working people. Mostly I just wanted to quit my job.

It would be interesting to see what Americans would say to the same questions Studs posed in today's working world (although nobody could replace the way he asked them). I would suspect that fewer would complain about the toll work placed on their bodies (we probably could use a little more of that to tell the truth). But I im...more
Does it get better than Studs Terkel? No. It doesn't. Here's a man who created and sustained, all by himself, a particular non-fiction genre that had never been conceived of before. The long, almost unedited interview with the questions deleted. It permitted (and, yes, it's past tense because to my knowledge no one has seen fit to pick up the torch) the entry by the reader into the personal thoughts and values of the person interviewed to a degree otherwise impossible. Of course, I'm sure that M...more
David Gillette
I really enjoyed this book. I read it very slowly, bits at a time, all out of order. I purchased it the week I quit my job at the bookstore, with my employee discount, and got a slow start on it. As the months drifted by, and I started a new job that I enjoyed much more, I kept coming back, a few installments at a time. And then the last couple of weeks I've basically been walking around the apartment with it like a security blanket and I think it's become one of my favorite books.

That would hor...more
Joseph Nicolello
Ah, at last a work which not just reminds me why I spent those years studying journalism, but actually inspires me to tap into that part of my brain again. I swore off journalism after Britney Spears's shaved head made the front page of a newspaper involving a thorough examination of the Sudanese holocaust and an interview w/ visiting survivors, and this is honestly the first time in about five years that I'm toying with some non-fiction projects. Thanks, Studs. I thought there was only one Stud...more
I think I killed Studs Terkel. Since I was a kid I've read omens and augeries into anything slightly out of the ordinary that happens to or around me, so I know my sudden and intense interest in him right before he died can't be a coincidence.

This is an amazing book, although I can't imagine reading too much in one go. It's surprising how pro-union everyone seemed to be not so long ago. What happened?

If anyone wants mp3s of Studs Terkel interviewing Dorothy Parker, Alan Lomax, James Baldwin, Mah...more
I got about 100 pages into this 600-page tome, and I couldn't help but feel that the reading endeavor as pointless as some of the folks felt that their jobs were. It's interesting to hear people's voices, straight with little editing, but disconcerting after a while to not find any sort of structure or context, aside from the somewhat esoteric organization of the order of interviews. The common theme seemed to be that lots of people didn't like their jobs very much, and that lots of them felt, i...more
A wonderful collection of stories about work. I found this in the discount table of a chain bookstore the summer after I graduated from college and before my professional identity was established. I read each chapter avidly, swallowing whole (if such a thing were possible) each person's story, attending to which jobs sounded pleasant, which horrible, which I thought I could do, which not, which seemed to endow the teller with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, which not. To my surprise,...more
Jason Reeser
I haven't made it halfway through this book yet but I can't put it down. What an extraordinary experience it is to read this. Despite the fact that this is slightly outdated now, forty years down after it was collected, it is still incredibly relevant for anyone who has to get up every morning (or evening) and go to work. I am struck by how often people say the newer generations are changing the workplace with their attitudes. It sounds like they are talking about the generation of today, when i...more
If there were an edited version of this book I'd like it a lot better. Although I like how the author put down the word-for-word transcription so it feels like you get to know the different interviewees, apparently the majority of the world likes to cuss-a lot. This book covers blue collar America and almost everyone is disappointed in or extremely dislikes their job most of the time. These people have tough jobs and tough lives! It should be called: "A college education is worth it." :-) I wish...more
This book is amazing and was really hard for me to read. To have the skin of so many on mine makes me feel heavy. Maybe it's trite to say, but what I learned is that life isn't fair, which is revealed over and over again in these testimonies. Maybe this book struck a chord with me because I am always conflicted about what to do with my career, relationships, self and I am never clear on what I should be aspiring to. Use your head, follow your heart?
Alex Jeffries
Working consists of nearly 600 pages of interviews of people speaking about their jobs and how they feel about what they do for a living. It's more than just a cross-section of American working life - it's a testament to why we do what we do. It's informative to have so many of these perspectives of people having spent five, ten, twenty years in the workforce, or having worked since they were small children, or having switched jobs. The vastness of this collection is overwhelming at times, but h...more
Bradley Hartman
There was no one like Studs Terkel to give you the real insight on the real working class. My Dad was interviewed by Mr. Terkel and became a chapter in this book. It was a highlight in both my Dad's and my life and part of the reason I am a writer today.
Alan Cordova
Excellent panorama of life at every level revealed through Studs Terkel's unparalleled powers of inquiry; a good gut check if you ever thought your life was tough!
Oct 31, 2008 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who has ever worked, and especially those who haven't
Shelves: favorites
Terkel was one of the only guys out there who could reliably restore my faith in the American people.

R.I.P. Studs.
Deborah Schwartz Jacobs
Absolute masterwork of oral history. This book, which I read in the early '70s as a UCLA undergrad, convinced me that it was important to listen to people's personal experiences and to care about the travails of their lives.

Possibly it also reinforced my disaffection with the work world and the conventions of American society, and somehow contributed to my eventual abandoning life in the USA to join an intentional community and cast my fate with the Zionist enterprise that seemed coherent with m...more
Remains a classic. I'll be reading it a few people at a time though with other books in between.
Apr 12, 2014 Daniel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Must-read for anyone who wants to understand what working in various occupations is like.
Recommended to Daniel by: Sheila Heti mentioned the book in an interview
This book was tough for me to get through in my limited time, due to the length, the number of profiles, and some of the depressing repetitions of gloom conveyed by the interviewees. But I think the book was the best version of what it was supposed to be. Here are some conclusions I'm drawing from my perspective and for my own benefit:

> Regardless of the occupation, it seems that standard workweek and job requirements are hostile to the mind, body and spirit
> These hostilities compound fo...more
At first glance, Working has a broader scope than Studs Terkel's other oral histories. Where The Good War was an oral history of the Second World War, and Hard Times covered the Great Depression, Working talks about work. Whose work? Everyone's work: from a corporate executive to a busbuy to a housewife to a fireman to a gravedigger, Terkel interviews cross class lines indiscriminately, finding unity in the centrality of the workday to most American's experiences.

In practice, though, what was at...more
I found hearing honest thoughts and feelings people have toward the things they do for a living to be intriguing. This is a compilation of something like 100 short sketches of various people doing various jobs. There is little if any commentary by the author--it comes across like a documentary, where the person conducting the interview is rarely heard. With almost all of the people, I found I could relate in deep ways, and I really liked that. Even the paper boy who talked about his occupation i...more
Mar 27, 2009 Stop added it
Shelves: interviewees
Read the STOP SMILING interview with Studs Terkel:

By Danny Postel and JC Gabel

(This interview originally appeared in the STOP SMILING Chicago Issue)

Studs Terkel is “as much a part of Chicago as the Sears Tower and Al Capone,” a BBC journalist once remarked.

Indeed, just as tourists to the “city of the century” throng to the skyscraper's observation deck and make their way to one or another of the gangster's old haunts, many a writer has pilgrimaged to the Uptown home of Chica
It took me almost a month to read this and has gotten me a little off-track my reading goal for the year. The concept was interesting, but it was pretty boring overall for me.

Written in 1972 and organized into relatively short vignettes, Terkel explores a multitude of occupations ranging from farmer to stock trader to stonecutter to hooker to apartment dooramn. Most of the jobs are in and around Chicago. Given the time, computers/technology didn't play much a role, though several of the subject...more
Derby Halligan
Jun 08, 2013 Derby Halligan is currently reading it
Love it so far! As someone who is "[f]unemployed" right now, the narratives in this book consistently make me think about my own work and educational experiences, and what I'd like my future to be. Another reason I love this book so far is that it makes me pay more attention to the interactions I have with workers, whether they are passing out flyers to boycott somebody, or making coffee, or delivering the mail. I also like that the definition of work is flexible -- is it just stuff you do to ma...more
Gary Schroeder
Studs Terkel's classic book "Working" is nothing more than a large volume of transcribed confessions of working people. The concept is deceptively simple, but what it reveals about a common activity that unites all of humanity is often truly surprising. Do you hate your job? Guess what. Most people do! Terkel gets workers from waitresses and steel workers to dentists and ad executives to confess what's really in their souls and how they really feel about what they do to make a buck. The surprise...more
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Terkel won the Pulitzer prize in 1985 for his interviews with ordinary people in such books as Working, The Good War, and Hard Times. Often called an Oral Historian, Studs Terkel preferred to be known for playing music on the radio.
More about Studs Terkel...
The Good War: An Oral History of World War II Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression Division Street: America Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times Race: How Blacks And Whites Think And Feel About The American Obsession

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“Most people were raised to think they are not worthy. School is a process of taking beautiful kids who are filled with life and beating them into happy slavery. That's as true of a twenty-five-thousand-dollar-a-year executive as it is for the poorest."
Bill Talcott - Organizer”
“Smug respectability, like the poor, we've had with us always. Today, however, ... such obtuseness is an indulgence we can no longer afford. The computer, nuclear energy for better or worse, and sudden, simultaneous influences upon everyone's TV screen have raised the ante and the risk considerably.” 2 likes
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