Budd Schulberg, On the Waterfront (1955). This was among the first books to truly articulate the pressure New York and New Jersey dockworkers faced from union leaders who used incredibly vicious and corrupt methods to extort money from the working-class longshoremen. It’s filled with iconic characters and therefore makes it an incredibly impactful narrative which, by the way, Schulberg wrote with no personal background of that world. Rather, he was a Dartmouth graduate and son of a Hollywood producer. The book was written, interestingly enough, after Schulberg wrote the Oscar-winning movie of the same name starring Marlon Brando and directed by Elia Kazan. He researched it by living among the dockworkers and their families, meeting with labor priests and delving into what was then the sad story of how painful just making a living was during that era on the waterfront.
Carol Evans, This Is How We Do It (2006). As a mother who works outside the home, I was really struck by this book. Some 70 percent of women with children are now in the labor force, and this book is filled with “life nuggets” for them—ideas on how to make it work. Compiled from Evans’ own experience as a high-powered executive-slash-mom and her hefty readership at “Working Mother” magazine, it tackles perfectly the challenge of maneuvering through the cross-currents of work, family and that age-old question of “How am I going to manage it all?” Totally non-judgmental, it's the perfect book for that huge and growing slice of the labor pie: women who either want to or must work outside the home.
Michael Lewis, The Big Short (2010). At first glance, one might not consider this a book about shifts in the labor world, but I believe it is. It delves into the stock market crash of 2008 and profiles the few who spotted the housing bubble and profited from its implosion by betting against it before the blow up. The book reveres the individuals whose original thinking in a world where the herd is huge and hard to break away from were able to profit handsomely by doing just that: separating from the crowd.
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920). Written by one of America's greatest female writers and a Pulitzer Prize winner, this riveting novel chronicles not only class and society in the late 19th century but the decaying career of lawyer Newland Archer as he challenges the conventions of the life set out for him by circumstances of his birth.
Liz Claman is a journalist, business book author and anchor on the Fox Business Network.