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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Charlotte Hayes

Charlotte Hayes
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy

Paul Veyne (Editor), Phillippe Aries (Series Editor), Georges Duby (Series Editor) and Arthur Goldhammer (Translator), A History of Private Life, Volume I: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium (1992). I love history, and in the last 10 years I have become obsessed with the ancient world, especially Rome.  The roots of current world issues are the roots of civilization—first Etruscan, Greek and then Roman. How does the U.S. Senate work and why? Look to the legacy of the one in ancient Rome. Want to explain the societal attitude toward work? Look to the values that formed attitudes in ancient Rome. George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I would add to that, “And not in a good way.” Studying the past helps understand the present. This book describes how men and women lived and worked in the infancy of our societies, and some of the attitudes toward work, wealth and status are uncannily similar to modern Western society today. 

Solomon Northrop, Twelve Years a Slave (1853). Any student of world history knows that there were slaves from the beginning of civilization, in Greece and Rome as well as Africa. They were spoils of war and conquest, and they provided labor others would not do—including very high-level artistry like mosaics on villa floors, like those laid by my Moroccan ancestors. America’s economy and success was built upon more than 100 years of back-breaking work and the death of people stolen from across the Atlantic. This book describes this work first hand and very graphically.  

Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions: Second Edition (1995). As only she could, Gloria Steinem revisited this original book of essays and refreshed it with a second edition, which again illuminated how work has dramatically changed for women in America. In it, she notes that her expose of working in a Playboy Club had outlived all the Playboy Clubs and that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once remarked that the original book “helped her become accepted as a serious editor.”

Charlotte Hayes is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the U.S. Department of Labor’s office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management.

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