Work Books
September 26, 2007 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Books About Work.

I really enjoy people writing about various jobs, like Ben Hamper's Rivethead (autoworker), Mike Cherry's On High Steel (ironworker), Reg Theriault's How To Tell When You're Tired(longshoreman) and a section of JC Herz's Joystick Nation (game programmers). I'm not looking for dry sociological treatises or polemics, but personal acconts. They don't have to be blue-collar jobs neccessarily, I'd be interested in such books from retail clerks and office or tech workers, too. Fire away with suggestions.
posted by jonmc to Writing & Language (43 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Looking for a Ship
posted by Miko at 6:14 PM on September 26, 2007

Studs Terkel - Working
posted by mshrike at 6:17 PM on September 26, 2007

I'm almost finished reading Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?, which is essentially Lou Gerstner's account of his time as IBM's CEO, when he pulled the company out of the rut it was in and turned it around. It's a surprisingly compelling read!
posted by DrSkrud at 6:21 PM on September 26, 2007

Sabotage in the American Workplace is a little dated, but still pretty funny and full of pissed-off worker stories.

There are also work-related zines like these. Not books per se, but (perhaps by definition) more personal and honest than many books.
posted by Rykey at 6:23 PM on September 26, 2007

Oh yeah, 2nding Terkel's Working.
posted by Rykey at 6:24 PM on September 26, 2007

Response by poster: I've already read Working, but good suggestion. I'm more looking for book length treatments of a single-profession by someone who's done that profession.
posted by jonmc at 6:28 PM on September 26, 2007

Rykey's link is definitely a book, based on the Dishwasher zines of the same name. I just finished reading it; it's pretty good.
posted by robcorr at 6:29 PM on September 26, 2007

Ooh! Yes! I love these books, too. I'll have to check out the ones you listed.

I recommend:

Strip City (About being a stripper.)

Dishwasher (About being a professional traveling dishwasher.)

Blue Blood (About being an NYPD cop. And one of my favorite books of all time.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 6:33 PM on September 26, 2007

Seconding: Looking for a Ship, John McPhee.
Con Men: The Big Con (NOT the Jonathan Chait book).
Wall Street: When Genius Failed, (with a bit part for papa hotBot) and Lairs Poker.
posted by shothotbot at 6:41 PM on September 26, 2007

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing about life as a prison guard.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:45 PM on September 26, 2007

A couple that leap to mind -

Programmer (in VBasic, but hey): Ellen Ullman's Close to the Machine

Funeral director: Thomas Lynch's The Undertaking

Nice question, by the way.
posted by rdc at 6:46 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I loved Newjack and Blue Blood, too (it made me take the idea of becoming a cop more seriously). We're on the right track. (I work unloading boxes in a used bookstore, so I have advance access to this stuff, heh-heh)
posted by jonmc at 6:52 PM on September 26, 2007

Big Dead Place
posted by MsMolly at 7:16 PM on September 26, 2007

Somewhere between a book about food and a book about a job is Heat, by Bill Buford
posted by O9scar at 7:21 PM on September 26, 2007

Good timing - Boldtype just sent the October issue and it's theme is jobs.
posted by david1230 at 7:41 PM on September 26, 2007

Gig is a collection of interviews with people about their jobs. It covers a really wide range of occupations (crime scene cleaner, lobbyist, transvestite prostitute, florist, and about 100 more) that you've heard of but never knew about in any kind of detail.

(Yeah, I know it's not a book-length discussion of a single job, but it's still an awesome book about working life. If you see it, definitely grab it.)
posted by stefanie at 7:49 PM on September 26, 2007

Bukowski's Post Office
posted by Abiezer at 7:54 PM on September 26, 2007

Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America ...
Barbara Ehrenreich took several minumum wage jobs to see if it was even possible to live on the resulting pay check and then wrote this book on the experience.
posted by BoscosMom at 7:55 PM on September 26, 2007

Defending the Damned about the Cook County Public Defender's Office Murder Task Force is getting a lot of praise from my former colleagues. I read Courtroom 302; although it was well-written, I didn't find it terribly compelling, possibly because it was so familiar to me. It got excellent reviews however.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:25 PM on September 26, 2007

I have to second Gig -- it's really amazing!
posted by mothershock at 8:25 PM on September 26, 2007

Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors and Street-Corner Punks, 1950-1965
Personal account (despite the title) by a guy who became a tattoo artist after he got tired of being an English prof.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:36 PM on September 26, 2007

Sydney Biddle Barrows' Mayflower Madam is quite an interesting read about running a high-end escort service in Manhattan in the 80s.

I know the question is about books, but the radio series Clare in the Community is a funny look at the life of a social worker - you can pretend it's an audio book.
posted by goo at 8:44 PM on September 26, 2007

Thirding Gig, which by the way acknowledges its debt to Terkel's Working. If you like one, chances are you'll like the other.
posted by chrominance at 10:10 PM on September 26, 2007

Zac Unger's Working Fire is a good companion for Blue Blood.
posted by judith at 10:24 PM on September 26, 2007

It's not his best known work, but it's certainly enjoyable, and great look at custom carpentry, as a job. House by Tracy Kidder.
posted by paulsc at 10:30 PM on September 26, 2007

The Perfect Storm Has some information on commercial fishing.
posted by concrete at 1:07 AM on September 27, 2007

The Wrench by Primo Levi. About various things, but lots of engineering tales in here.
posted by crocomancer at 3:56 AM on September 27, 2007

The Hotel: Backstairs at the World's Most Exclusive Hotel. Not a first person account, but really fascinating.
posted by JanetLand at 6:34 AM on September 27, 2007

Nthing Working and Gig.

And I'm a little surprised that nobody has mentioned David Simon's Homicide. If you like that, you might also enjoy some of Joseph Wambaugh's nonfiction police stuff.
posted by box at 6:43 AM on September 27, 2007

I just finished Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris. it's a novel, but it's set in an advertising office and it's so neck-deep in truth-feeling that I'm pretty sure Ferris must be writing really heavily from experience.

The book that all office-working writers say they're going to write, turning all of their negative experience at the office into useful material? This is that book, done really well.
posted by COBRA! at 7:01 AM on September 27, 2007

Not a novel, but I can see you enjoying Bartleby the Scrivener.
posted by frecklefaerie at 7:09 AM on September 27, 2007

Bartleby is about going to the office and not working. Still, it's a hoot and worth looking at.

Also loved Working, but it's pretty dated.

The Art of Work
, though published as a textbook, is a literary anthology that offers a pretty good sampling of various workplace literatures.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:01 AM on September 27, 2007

"Serpico" a true story of New York City policeman Frank Serpico. Was also a film by Sidney Lumet starring Al Pacino.
posted by DZ-015 at 9:14 AM on September 27, 2007

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland
posted by ericb at 9:21 AM on September 27, 2007

I really loved Scott Rosenberg's book, "Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, And One Quest For Transcendent Software". Scott spent years observing developers at the Open Source Applications Foundation trying to develop a new email/scheduling application. It's the book I recommend to non-IT people when they ask me to explain what I do.
posted by beautifulstuff at 11:49 AM on September 27, 2007

Paperboy: Confessions of a Future Engineer by Henry Petroski


The Courage of his Convictions by Robert Allerton
posted by Kinbote at 7:11 PM on September 27, 2007

The Haldeman Diaries, by H.R. Haldeman. Absolutely fascinating.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:35 PM on September 28, 2007

Being an Actor by Simon Callow is a great look at the actor's craft, particularly for British theatre in the 80s.
posted by goo at 12:14 AM on October 4, 2007

My favorite is From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor by Jerry Della Femina. It's not modern, but it's a great peek into the "Mad Men" era copywriter day-to-day.

There have been a few really interesting books on being an undertaker since "Six Feet Under" went on the air, but none I'd specifically recommend.
posted by Gucky at 11:36 AM on October 17, 2007

Just out, and getting great reviews: Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster. Seconding the recommendation of Blue Blood.
posted by BT at 8:26 PM on November 5, 2007

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