978-0-8129-2901-0 / 9780812929010

The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work


Publisher:Crown Business / Times Books



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About the book:

Work, for most of us, is something we do, not something we think about. We may wonder whether our work is sufficiently stimulating, whether it brings in enough money, or whether it makes a difference in the grand scheme of things, but we don't often question what, in fact, work really is, and why we work in the first place. In The Working Life, Joanne Ciulla asks these critical questions and others, taking a philosophical, sociological, and practical look at the nature of work and its role in our lives today.

As Ciulla points out, we live in a work-oriented society where, even though we have more freedom and flexibility than ever and more tools to increase convenience and efficiency, our work determines our lives. We have "gone beyond the work ethic," she states, to a point where our jobs have become our primary source of identity. To understand this, Ciulla looks at the values we reflect in our choice of jobs and professions, the attitudes we express in our language for work, and the sociohistorical journey that work has taken from cursed necessity to calling. She follows the path of work in our recent past, from unregulated labor and slavery, through unionism, to the rise of the all-encompassing corporation and today's blurred lines between private and public lives. In the final section, Ciulla investigates the role that work plays in our understanding and use of time and our search for meaning.

Now teaching courses on ethics, leadership, and critical thinking at Virginia's University of Richmond, Ciulla has examined and experienced the nature of work from both sides of the managerial divide. After supporting herself through the first nine years of an academic career with bar and restaurant work, she went on to study and teach business ethics at Harvard and Wharton. These varied experiences give the book a balanced and sensitive tone, adding credibility to her insights. She supports and refines her ideas about work with the comments of philosophers, writers, sociologists, economists, management theorists, and even the narratives of popular television shows. Her sources range from Aristotle and the ancient storyteller Aesop to the early-20th-century time-study engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor, the comic strip "Dilbert," and modern-day business gurus. The diversity of perspectives is inspiring and helps--together with Ciulla's own interpretations and clear, precise prose--create a thought-provoking and stimulating look at the nature of work. --S. Ketchum

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