WORKING by Studs Terkel
Kirkus Star


People Talk About What They Do All Day And How They Feel About What They Do
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Note from Kirkus' Vintage Review Editor:

Last week was the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which first established a minimum wage. You never need an excuse to read Studs Terkel, but the anniversary is the perfect occasion to return to Working, Terkel's eloquent 1974 masterpiece, in which he interviews workers of all stripes and brings their stories vibrantly to life.


There is hardly an interviewer, commentator or probing journalist among us who can elicit so much grief and passion, so many forlorn hopes and decayed dreams, so much of the tedium and frustration of daily existence from his subjects as Studs Terkel.

Subjects? Hardly. Talking casually, sometimes disjointedly and hesitantly, or unleashing long suppressed feelings in an angry torrent, these are not clinical case studies but complex, fully human people whose humdrum reminiscences of long hours, days and years on the job are almost painfully involving. Even their laughter, abrupt and nervous, will make you wince because in Terkel's words, "This book, being about work is, by it's very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as to the body." "You're nothing more than a machine. . . . They give better care to that machine than they will to you. They'll have more respect, give more attention to that machine," says the twenty-seven year-old spot welder at Ford. "I'm a mule," says the steelworker. Nor is the sense of waste and futility confined to blue-collar workers. Terkel talks to shipping clerks and sports figures, copy boys, hospital aides, salesmen, press agents, a doorman, a barber, a fireman, a cop, a pharmacist, a piano tuner, a stockbroker, a gravedigger...and yes, there is a common chord. Pride, the pride of craftsmanship is harder and harder to sustain; the old work ethic seems to many like a dirty trick. Strikingly, the only people who seem genuinely to exult in their work are those who deal directly and intimately with other people—like the Brooklyn fireman who muses, "You see them give mouth-to-mouth when a guy's dying. You can't get around that shit. That's real. To me, that's what I want to be."

For the rest, Terkel finds "the desperation is unquiet" and here, at least, it's eloquent.
Pub Date: March 28th, 1974
ISBN: 1565843428
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1974


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