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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

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  4,897 ratings  ·  416 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 January 1st 1997 by New Press (first published February 12th 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 migh…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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 ·  4,897 ratings  ·  416 reviews

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Aug 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
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." ...more
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Roy Lotz
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
They ask me if it’s true that when we bury somebody we dig ‘em out in four, five years and replace ‘em with another one. I tell ‘em no. When these people is buried, he’s buried here for life.

—Elmer Ruiz, Gravedigger

It is not really accurate to call Terkel the “author” of this book. The real authors are the 133 subjects of Terkel's interviews. Terkel serves as a stenographer and redactor, recording interviews and editing them into readable format. This is no mean feat, of course. The ability to g
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Rana Khoury
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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. ...more
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 "Workin
Scot Parker
Well, I finally finished, almost 13 months after starting. This is a tough one to review because on one hand, works like this that present the perspectives and life experiences of people all throughout society are critically important - we all need to move outside our personal bubbles and learn about the experiences of others so that we can form a more just and equitable society and build empathy within ourselves. On the other hand, damn was this tedious for me. I put it down for weeks or months ...more
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anything you like to do isn’t tiresome. (Carl Murray Bates, stonemason, Kindle 809)

Working is a compendium of first-person narratives about, erm, work – the good, the bad, the ugly. Speakers range from 12 years of age to 75 (or more). They are male and female; White, Black, and Latin. Many are blue-collar workers, but some are also owners. Few are professionals – I don't remember any physicians, social workers, psychologists, physical therapists, or professors, although there are a couple of att
Kressel Housman
Jul 27, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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
Victory Wong
Feb 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
John Stepper
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
45 years have passed since he did these interviews, and the world seems to have changed in so many fundamental ways. Yet the themes expressed in these interviews about what people need from work and life seem timeless: respect, recognition, appreciation, purpose, connection.

Anyone wanting to make work (and life) better would benefit from reading “Working”.
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.
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing effort. Published in the early 1970s, this mammoth oral history is the product of Terkel's interviews with scores of Americans about their work. It's got everything in it - a whole collection of interviews of folks whose jobs revolve around the automobile (building, selling, driving), retirees, a housewife, a paperboy, a receptionist, factory workers, a hospital 'patient representative' (i.e. bill collector), teachers, a sex worker - everything!! I loved learning about people's w ...more
Required reading.
Sep 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, plays
While the music fit into the workers' anecdotes well, I found that my attention wandered. This adaptation did make me interested in reading Terkel's book someday though. ...more
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
I found it very interesting to read what workers had to say about their work - a huge variety - 762 pages worth. It would be even more interesting to read an updated version of the same book.

Many of those interviewed lived an worked in the Chicago area, so that added interest for me. The time period was the early 70's and this brought back a lot of the culture of that time to my memory. In many ways, it was a different world.
Dara Salley
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an important book when it was published in the 70s and it's just as relevant now. It's fun to see the way that things have improved over the past 50 years and the way some things stay the same. Airline attendants are no longer weighed by the airlines and put on probation if they are too fat! I would like to hope that some of the more hazardous jobs profiled in "Working" have been made safer for the workers. People in the late 70s were beginning to feel the encroachment of the computeriz ...more
David Gillette
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Colin MacDonald
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is great. It's the grown-up version of all those Richard Scarry books I loved as a kid, like What do people do all day? It's interviews with over a hundred people from all walks of life about exactly that.
The interviews are from nearly fifty years ago, so some things have changed, but less than you'd expect. Most of the jobs are still around in some form. Social attitudes and race relations have changed; maybe not as much as we'd like, but it's oddly encouraging to see that they really
Apr 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"We read to know we are not alone." -C.S. Lewis

I originally read "Working" haphazardly, looking for occupations or voices that interested me, but about a year ago I decided to read it cover-to-cover. Three things come to mind when I reflect on why it made such an impact on me:

(1) It's served as a tool for personal reflection. "Working" has been the book on my nightstand for over a year: when I'm winding down after a long day, mulling over all the ways I've succeeded and failed, lived up to expec
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
Apr 12, 2015 rated it liked it
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.
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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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