A sobering analysis of quasi-Orwellian tactics that permeate American work life.

WORKED OVER

HOW ROUND-THE-CLOCK WORK IS KILLING THE AMERICAN DREAM

A sociologist warns that too many Americans are overworked or subject to soul-crushing tactics such as real-time electronic surveillance by their employers.

McCallum may be the only social scientist who has worked as a longshoreman on the Seattle docks and marched in a picket line with the Exotic Dancers Union at the Lusty Lady peep show in San Francisco. Drawing on such colorful experiences as well as deep scholarly research, he makes the compelling argument that Americans are losing control of their work time. For generations, Americans saw hard work as a means to upward mobility, with strong unions to protect wages and hours and employers who managed workers’ time by adopting the ideas of efficiency experts like Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. That changed beginning in the 1970s. As union power waned and wages fell or stagnated, a new idea took hold: Work was good for you. What mattered was following your “passion,” not decent wages or hours. At the same time, new electronic tools allowed companies to manipulate workers’ time in ways that had especially harsh consequences for low-wage earners, including giggers and taskers like Uber drivers and Instacart shoppers, who were often left with too much or too little work time or unstable schedules. McCallum describes giant screens at Disneyland that showed workers’ names in real time—and who was (and wasn’t) meeting productivity goals—and a scheduling algorithm at Target (“Walmart for liberals”) that doles out shifts that can vary so much, employees can’t arrange child care or supplement meager pay with second jobs. Archcapitalists may be put off by the socialist-inflected remedies McCallum proposes, but few will disagree with his conclusion: “Free time is an objective good in and of itself, and workers clearly deserve more than they’re currently getting.”

A sobering analysis of quasi-Orwellian tactics that permeate American work life.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5416-1834-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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