Valerie's Reviews > Selling the Work Ethic: From Puritan Pulpit to Corporate PR

Selling the Work Ethic by Sharon Beder
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May 11, 2009

Read in May, 2009 — I own a copy

To say this book is derivative doesn't even begin to cover it. All the references are to secondary (and sometimes even tertiary) sources.

This is not a basis for rejection in itself--many popularizations are derivative, and this one is a good read: BUT...

Several of the quotes are implausible. The notoriously taciturn Calvin Coolidge (who is said to have once replied to a woman who'd bet she could get more than two words from him, "You lose.") is rendered quite improbably prolix.

Worse, Darwin is described as 'not averse' to social Darwinism, on the the basis of one quote which is very stylistically uncharacteristic of him. Darwin may have been quite racist by our standards--his comments on the Maori and the people of Tierra del Fuego in The Voyage of The Beagle are often quite offensive. But he was a paternalistic meliorist, and quite alarmingly mild of tone. I'm not saying he didn't say what he's quoted as saying--I can't tell, because the source given is a secondary one. And, like Whitman, Darwin was 'large', he 'contain(ed) multitudes'.) But I keep going back to the oft-quoted lines from the last (anti-slavery)chapter of Voyage of The Beagle: "if the sufferings of the poor be due, not to Nature, but to our institutions, great is our sin." There's pretty strong evidence that Darwin was, in fact, as fiercely opposed to the excesses of 'Social Darwinism' as he was capable of being fiercely anything.

With those caveats, this may serve as a useful introductory text, if (and only if) its leads are followed up. And it is very readable. The last time I read it, I set it aside, intending to follow up on the endnotes. This time I took it out of the pile of unfinished business. I hope I actually get digging, this time, and it doesn't just go backe into the pile.

Update: Since this was written, I did track down the quote from Darwin. It's from The Descent of Man, and it is written by Darwin--but it's a nearly exact transcription from quotes by Darwin's cousin Galton. The rest of the book (so far, I've only got to about page 550 simply brackets the Galtonesque section--and ignores it, to focus on Darwin's main contention in the rest of the book--that much of evolution, far from being a matter of gladiatorial combats, is a matter of male animals competing for the attention of females by being as beautiful as they can be in the eyes of the females.
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