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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Book Recommendation

Eve Tahmincioglu

Eve Tahmincioglu,
Director of Communications for Families and Work Institute

I’ve spent my career writing about the workplace, from factory floors to corner offices, and the books I believe shaped work in America are the ones that open our eyes to things we just didn’t think about before, changing perceptions of ourselves as workers, others toiling away, and those who lose their jobs, choose to stop working and represent the future workforce.

Leslie Bennetts, The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? (2007). Like the classic The Feminine Mystique, The Feminine Mistake forced women to face the realities that come with their choices. Pointing out the futility of the “Mommy Wars,” Bennetts clearly laid out the financial hardships women can end up facing if they give up their jobs to stay home and rely solely on their husbands as their financial bedrocks. She warned women about the dangers of not taking “full responsibility for your own life.”

Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (Illustrator), Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type (2000). This is a children’s picture book, but it’s not like anything else you’ll ever read to your kids. It took the issue of workers’ rights and couched it in terms children could understand. Cows and hens want better working and living conditions and demand as much from the farmer. They go on strike until they get electric blankets so they can keep warm at night. “No Milk. No Eggs,” they demand. This book’s success proved that the idea of workplace fairness wasn’t too sophisticated for young children and has taught younger generations about a concept that hasn’t been getting enough props in recent decades, organized labor.

Ben Hamper, Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line (1991). Hamper put a face on the faceless autoworkers who fill the nation’s auto plants, but he didn’t try to put a pretty face on them. The wrenching monotony of the job and the inner workings of the factory’s daily grind, were exposed with humor and honesty in disturbing detail. An older female employee knocks herself out accidentally with a rivet gun but all the line supervisor worries about is that someone stopped the line to make sure she was okay. He writes, “The General Forman, a real Nazi who we called Penguin, reached up and pulled out the stop button. The line jerked back into motion. ‘Goddamnit,’ I yelled. ‘What about the old lady?’ ‘Don’t worry,’ some bosshead offered, ‘we’ll pull her out of there. Everybody else just get back to work and KEEP THIS LINE RUNNING!’”

Richard N. Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute? (1970). When this book first came out in the 1970s, it was way before its time, addressing the idea that employees would have to take responsibility over their own careers by doing things like networking. The idea of not spending your life punching the clock at one job, or even one career, was unusual then, but how prescient the author was. In 2007, I interviewed Bolles—who has since published endless iterations of his classic job-search/career-search book—and stressed that even with the advent of social media and applying for jobs online, the basic job-hunting premise was the same: find a job you’ll enjoy and hit the pavement hard if you want to land the gig.

Eve Tahmincioglu is the director of communications for Families and Work Institute. She is a career blogger and founder of CareerDiva.net, and author of "From the Sandbox to the Corner Office."



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