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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Book Recommendation

Carl Fillichio

Carl Fillichio
Senior Advisor for Public Affairs
and Communications

Culture, whether popular or otherwise, has played a big role in shaping our notions of working and work in America. So I included a few popular novels (some of which became motion pictures), as well as non-fiction works on my list.

Daniel H. Pink, Free Agent Nation (2002). In this book, Pink (former U.S. Department of Labor employee) identified, studied and literally named a new and emerging breed of American workers. It’s both a provocative study of the changing nature and situation of work and workers across the globe, and a “how to” for anyone who wants to succeed in the new, office-less world of work.

Richard Nelson Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute?  (1970). How could I not put this on the list? Who didn’t get this book as a college graduation gift or bought it to help navigate a job change? In print since 1970 and revised every year since 1975, it has not only informed and educated job seekers and job changers in the United States, but also had a global impact through publication in more than 20 languages. It’s basically the bible of career advice.

Rona Jaffe, The Best of Everything (1958). While I was re-reading this book in a coffee shop recently, a very stylish woman in her 70s tapped me on the shoulder, smiled warmly and said:  “I read that book 50 years ago, shortly after I graduated from college. A week later, I was in Manhattan, working in publishing, just like Caroline (one of the characters)! My father called me ambitious, like it was a dirty word!” Jaffe meant “TBOE” to be a cautionary tale; instead, it introduced, inspired and induced countless women to the glamour and grit of the American office. The movie version is a classic!

Sloan Wilson, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955). This title has become a popular phrase in American lexicon for corporate conformity. But it’s not really about that at all (and I couldn’t resist suggesting a book about my own occupation of public relations). A passage from this novel (also a fantastic movie) has, I think, the best career advice ever:  “A young man has to get started right. The ideal thing is to find a job which always expects a little more than you can deliver, but not so much that you get snowed under. A job should always keep you straining at the limits of your abilities.”

Michael Lewis, Liar’s Poker (1989). I worked briefly on Wall Street, and hands down, no contest, this “semi-autobiography” defines it. The Wall Street of the 1980s isn’t much different from the Wall Street of today. Despite the fact that most of the characters are despicable, you can’t put this book down. And think about this: the young characters from Lewis’s “class” at Salomon Brothers that he spills the beans on in this tome are today’s titans of Wall Street. Lewis names names and tells it like it was—and still is.

Carl Fillichio is the Senior Advisor for Public Affairs and Communications at the U.S. Department of Labor, and chair of the department's Centennial.

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