Books About Work

7 September 2009 at 12:08 am 7 comments

| Peter Klein |

I blogged earlier about Matthew Crawford, whose book Shop Class as Soulcraft challenges our commonly held beliefs about white- and blue-collar work. In a feature in Saturday’s WSJ Crawford listed his five favorite books about work. It’s an unusual list: Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital, Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Managed Heart, Richard Sennett’s The Corrosion of Character, and Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work. After Virtue, for example, is well-known as an outstanding work in contemporary moral philosophy, but Crawford sees it in a different light:

Alasdair MacIntyre shows that the manager, that stock character in ­modern institutional life, is a moral relativist by stipulation — it’s just part of the job. Unlike an entrepreneur, a hired manager must accept the ends of an organization as given — as unavailable for rational scrutiny. His task is to adjust others, and indeed himself, to the realization of those ends, by whatever means are effective. As the business section of any chain bookstore confirms, what is wanted are therapeutic techniques of “self transformation”; the manager becomes a sort of institutional pop psychologist.

What are your favorite books (and articles) about the workplace? Besides Dilbert. I’m partial to Donald Roy’s 1952 classic, “Quota Restriction and Goldbricking in a Machine Shop.”

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Management Theory.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Andre Sammartino  |  7 September 2009 at 2:50 am

    The novels of David Lodge give a reasonable insight into the world of academic work (well, the politics and personality aspects of university departments any way).

  • 2. MT  |  7 September 2009 at 10:55 am

    Reading about work is still better than working…

  • 3. David Gerard  |  7 September 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener

    James Thurber’s “The Catbird Seat”

  • 4. REW  |  7 September 2009 at 7:18 pm

    _Working_ by Studs Terkel

  • 5. brayden  |  8 September 2009 at 10:06 am

    Robert Jackall’s Moral Mazes is a good read. The theme of his book resonates with the MacIntyre book, although in the end Jackall is more critical of the moral quandary that corporations create for managers than MacIntyre would appear to be.

  • 6. srp  |  9 September 2009 at 5:02 am

    American Steel by Richard Preston, about Nucor and its pioneering plate-casting plant, gives a good feel for what life is like for “hot-metal” men.

    Crime as Work by Peter Letkemann–1960s armed robbers, burglars, and safecrackers describe their work lives.

    The Stars are not Enough,by Joseph Hermanowicz on the careers of physicists, based on in-depth interviews with 60 subjects.

    Bringing the Heat by Mark Bowden–the work lives of professional football players.

    The Silicon Eye by George Gilder on a startup trying to develop a revolutionary imaging technology.

    The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder on the product-development team for a 1970s minicomputer at Data General.

  • 7. Jeff Sallaz  |  9 September 2009 at 5:23 am

    I always teach Fast Food, Fast Talk by Robin Leidner. It discusses the technical and ethical dilemmas of applying Taylorist principles to service encounters. She herself worked at McDonalds and as door-to-door salesperson for the research.

    Rivethead by Ben Hamper is a great first-person, non-academic account of life on the auto assembly line.

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