A collection of intimate interviews with people regarding the personal, familial, cultural, and geographic factors in their working lives.
Inspired by Studs Terkel’s Working (1974), which profiled ordinary American workers, editor Skees (God Among the Shakers, 1998) takes the concept global. Six of her 16 subjects live in the United States, including a slack-key guitarist in Honolulu, an architect in Cincinnati, and a recruiter/headhunter in Tampa, Florida. The rest are on other continents, including a coffee farmer in Nicaragua, a Masai warrior in Tanzania, a married couple running an eco-friendly factory in India, a rickshaw puller in Bangladesh, and a private equity manager in Hong Kong. Skees organizes the material into five sections (“Entrepreneurship,” “Industry and Transportation,” “Farming, Food, and Animals,” “Finance and Technology,” and “Music & Arts”), but each first-person account stands on its own, and they can be read in any order. A map, photograph, and editor’s note introduce each, and footnotes supplement the text. Skees nimbly maintains a consistent narrative flow, with none of the readability problems that are common in transcriptions. Whereas Terkel packed a great many workers into his book, Skees gives her subjects more space to muse, digress, and occasionally contradict themselves. The results are highly personal, often poignant, sometimes gritty, and routinely granular—perhaps more than some readers may expect, or even desire. The editor sets out to demonstrate that “our job = our self.” But such detailed portraits also reveal that formula’s commutative property—how personal preferences, chance, circumstances, and location shape each person’s job choice and performance. Skees is a nonprofit international development specialist, and doing work that contributes to the greater good emerges as a strong theme. As a result, this is a small, and perhaps skewed, sample of the world’s workforce (although a second volume is forthcoming), but it will inspire readers by showcasing workers across diverse industries, income levels, countries, and cultures expressing how they find meaning in their work beyond earning money.
A vocational and sociological travelogue that readers will find to be time well spent.