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Books that Shaped Work in America

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 Amanda Kraft

Amanda Kraft
Intern at the U.S. Department of Labor

As a college junior, I’m thinking a lot about what to do after graduation. Should I work? Attend law school? Travel? As I contemplate my options, I have on more than one occasion reflected on books that have shaped my view of the world of work.  Four of them are:

Ayn Rand, Anthem (1937). The characters in this science fiction novella are unable to decide anything; society decides their careers. The book depicts the possible outcome of collectivism on society, especially what it would mean for work. Readers are forced to think about their own values and passions, and to defend them: What happens when an individual tries to defy the norm and break away from the confines of society in order to do what he is passionate about?

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1869). I’ve always thought that this book is really about the dreams and work aspirations of women, and what they need to do to achieve them. The main character, Jo, is adamant about pursuing a career in writing, and she sacrifices a substantial amount of social opportunities in order to obtain this dream. The book was groundbreaking for its time; it is about ambitious women.

Kathryn Stockett, The Help (2009) This is the story of three African American house maids in Mississippi during the early 1960s. The novel portrays the countless difficulties they face not only at work, but in society as well. The women demonstrate perseverance, determination and strength. The book reminds us that we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

Lauren Weisberger, The Devil Wears Prada (2003). This is the quintessential “boss from hell” story and a real inside view of the ugly side of the fashion magazine world. But, more than that, The Devil Wears Prada explores the double-standard that powerful, working women confront every day, and the universal trials and tribulations of a first job.

Amanda Kraft is a junior at The American University and an intern at the U.S. Department of Labor.

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