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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

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  4,107 Ratings  ·  316 Reviews
Perhaps Studs Terkel's best-known book, Working is a compelling look at jobs and the people who do them. Consisting of over one hundred interviews with everyone from a gravedigger to a studio head, from a policeman to a piano tuner, this book provides an enduring portrait of people's feelings about their working lives
ebook, 641 pages
Published July 26th 2011 by New Press (first published 1974)
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Cheryl Probably less so than you think. Progress is slow in most areas except computers and communication. If you feel you must, read it as History. You…moreProbably less so than you think. Progress is slow in most areas except computers and communication. If you feel you must, read it as History. You might also want to read "Hidden America" by Jeanne Marie Laskas.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 16, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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."
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fic
Have you ever imagined what being a mustachioed New York cop in the 70s was like? Or how it feels to labour as a Springsteen-esque steelworker? How about as a stonemason? If you’ve ever idly wondered about any of these things, or about sundry other ways that people make a living, you can’t pass Working up. This book earns its big reputation. Working will transport you, not just into the working lives of others, but into a different, and in many ways alien, era- the United States of the 1960s and ...more
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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.
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Niki Haworth
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I have an impractical desire to experience all the experiences. I could go on at great length about this, but Sylvia Plath says it best:

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.”

Thankfully, there are books like "Working"
Kressel Housman
Here's another one for my unfinished shelf, unfortunately. I've read about 250 pages, which is one-third of the way through, but with the end so far on the horizon, I'm ready to give up. Since the book is structured in individual interviews, can always pick up again some other time. It's not like it's a complete story, and I'm missing the ending.

The interviewees are regular Americans talking about what they do for a living. Most of them are griping, which I can relate to, but that may be part of
Erik Graff
May 11, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Terkel/oral history fans
Recommended to Erik by: Einar Graff
My father died recently, just short of his 94th birthday. His wife has been gradually divesting herself of his possessions, among them many books, several of them by Studs.

Dad was a great fan of classical music and a bit of a leftist. In Chicago, that combination was best approximated by WFMT radio and its various magazines, within which Studs appeared regularly. A bit of a leftist himself, the McCarthy perseculations of the fifties threw him out of the networks and into the arms of "Chicago's f
C. Scott
Mar 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A massive book, I'm so glad I was finally able to finish it. An excellent book, this is the third I've read by Studs Terkel - the others "Hard Times" and "The Good War" were equally great.

We all go through life making assumptions about others. I guess it's natural to use shorthand and make judgements about people based on what they do. This book does more than anything else I know to turn those assumptions on their heads. Terkel talked to people from every walk of life - CEOs and high paid execu
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
I've wanted to read this book for a long time. I don't know if Terkel was the first to publish everyman interviews about lives from all walks of life from hookers to priests to craftsmen to steelworkers to TV producers, but it certainly has been a reference text. It was fascinating, in great part because of the time-capsule aspect. Life and work have changed out of all recognition in the past 45 years; the secretarial skills I worked so hard to acquire in those days are worth precisely nothing o ...more
David Gillette
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
David Quinn
Great concept and lots of good stories but ultimately too long and too many pointless stories.

The last two stories (the Patrick brothers) were examples of the book’s high points. Each had interesting events to describe and their points of view were unique.

The book flopped when people offered their dull and unsubstantiated theories on the various reasons why things happened the way they did. Also, there were many instances of people bemoaning the lack of work ethic in today’s youth. (The book wa
J.W.D. 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
Nov 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jason Reeser
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nate Hanson
At turns illuminating and repetitive, two major themes emerge:
1) "Those on the top only see shitheads. Those on the bottom only see assholes."
(The relevant image Goodreads won't let me link. Quite SFW.)

2) Labor with no perceptible tangible outcome is inherently dehumanizing. Without a sense of ownership over a product's craftsmanship, the soul suffers terribly. Consequently, the product itself often does, too.
Sep 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Todd Stockslager
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review Title: A long, strange trip back to a different world of work

The world of work has changed so dramatically in the 40 plus years since Terkel interviewed this selection of men and women at work in the American workforce in 1972 that this seems like a historical document from another era. His ability to capture and let people talk in their own voices makes this documentary even more vital and valuable as the world and work of our parents and grandparents disappears.

1. Work was work then. B
E-Lynn Yap
I tried really hard to like this book. But frankly it is far too long and should have been edited (read: compressed) more rigorously. Some of the accounts are fascinating but most are dull and repetitive. It honestly just felt like an indiscriminate catalogue of complaints. If the point was to evoke in the reader the same boredom that most of these people experience at their jobs then I guess Terkel succeeded, but somehow I doubt that's the case.
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016reads
I've had this on my list for ages, recommended by people I respect the most. I finally did it.

What I knew I'd love: people reflecting on their work, and what it means (or doesn't mean) to them and why.

What I didn't expect: the trapped-in-amber feeling from 1972. The Vietnam war, the labor movement, the youth backlash against the Company Man and the suburbs paired with the intensive search for meaning. The immediate practical aftermath of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the cynici
Shweta Nigam
Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Do you hate your job? Guess what. Most people do! The author 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 is how universal many of the feelings we have about our jobs truly are. The book is a large volume of transcribed confessions of working people.

Although this book came out in 1972, it feels surprisingly recent. The subject of the book is the way th
Cette édition est une adaptation graphique du célèbre "Working" (en français, "Gagner sa croûte") du journaliste américain Studs Terkel. Le projet de Working est, selon moi, des plus intéressants : le journaliste donne la parole aux individus, afin qu'ils évoquent leur travail, ce qu'ils y font, la place que ce travail a dans leurs vies, la manière dont ils le perçoivent, l'importance qu'ils lui donnent.
Je n'ai pu mettre la main que sur l'adaptation dessinée, et j'ai pensé que c'était pas plus
Derby Halligan
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 21, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish, 2011
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
Esther Bradley-detally
Read this in the 80s or 90s when i was a legal secretary. The big thing i took away from this book was that only 20% of people liked their jobs. Another freelancer and I used to take an elevator up to the fourth floor of a lawfirm, and we would say to each other and ourselves, over and over, "Oh God please let me become one of the 20%." and now we both are out of this milieu

Years ago there was an earthquake in Seattle, and I was in Pasadena, and I called my friend, and said, "Thank God we are no
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Louis "Studs" Terkel was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1985 for "The Good War", and is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans, and for hosting a long-running radio show in Chicago.

Terkel was acclaimed for his efforts to preserve American oral history. His 1985 book "The Good War: An Oral History
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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”
“I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly-line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.” 11 likes
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