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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Book Recommendation

 Marc Morial

Marc Morial
President, National Urban League

Like America itself, work is constantly evolving, and it is my hope that work in America will continually get better as it expands to be more diverse and inclusive. As I look at my list, I realize that key to this evolution is choice. In some of the books, it’s individuals who have to make a choice—where to live, what to do. In others, the choices are ones we face as a nation.

Hedrick Smith, Who Stole the American Dream?  (2012). In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, CEOs saw it as their duty to balance the interests of investors with workers, management and the local community. But that changed significantly by the 1980s, when corporate America and its political influence changed the tax system and rolled back regulations—essentially rewriting the rules of work. At the same time, the strength and numbers of citizen “movements” declined. In this book, Smith makes the case that a lopsided split in our country’s economy isn’t just unfair, it’s no longer tolerable. It’s time for us to take back the pen. 

Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality:  How Today’s Divided Society Endangers our Future (2012). In this immensely readable book, Nobel Prize-winning economist Stiglitz demonstrates that markets are moved as much by Washington politicians as Wall Street traders and how their choices have created inequality…not just in wages, but in opportunity as well. So not only is our economy negatively impacted, but also our democracy.

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns:  The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2010). Whether it’s the sharecropper’s wife who left Mississippi for Chicago in the 1930s or the doctor who left Louisiana for Los Angeles in the 1950s, the mass movement of millions of African Americans away from the South changed not only individual lives and families, but also the topography and geography of work in the United States. This book explores the impact of “The Great Migration” on America’s communities and workplaces. 

Claude Brown, Manchild in the Promised Land (1965). This autobiographical novel, set in Harlem in the 1940s and 1950s, rocked the literary world when it was published during the tumultuous mid-1960s. It didn’t pull any punches and told it like it was. And for many, it graphically demonstrated how poverty and violence are intertwined with lack of employment opportunity. It’s an extraordinary snapshot of a time and place in American history, with universal appeal; it has been translated into 14 languages.

Marc Morial is the current president of the National Urban League and a former mayor of New Orleans, serving from 1994 to 2002. 

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