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Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time Hardcover – 20 October 2020
There is eminently underlinable stuff on most pages . . . Fascinating ― The Times
In this illuminating "deep history", the anthropologist James Suzman interrogates mainstream economic assumptions about human nature and argues that to make sense of our modern culture of rising inequality we must first understand our past ― New Statesman
For too long, our notions of work have been dominated by economists obsessed with scarcity and productivity. As an anthropologist, James Suzman is here to change that. He reveals that for much of human history, hunter-gathers worked far less than we do today and led lives of abundance and leisure. I've been studying work for two decades, and I can't remember the last time I learned so much about it in one sitting. This book is a tour de force -- Adam Grant, bestselling author of 'Give and Take' and 'Originals'
A groundbreaking history of work, which exposes the productivity-at-all-costs mindset to strike a blow at the myth of the economic problem. I learned something new on every page -- Grace Blakeley
Brilliant . I thought I had read enough by now to know what work is and why we so often feel compelled to work - but I was wrong -- Danny Dorling
Deeply researched, broad in scope and filled with insight, this is a modern classic. Every page brings something worth thinking hard about -- Seth Godin, author of 'Survival is Not Enough'
Automation of all kinds looms on the horizon. Luckily, James Suzman is here with a revelatory new history that makes a persuasive case: that human industry can light a path forward, even in a future where we're put out of work by our own inventions -- Charles Duhigg
Chronicles how much humankind can still learn from the disappearing way of life of the most marginalised communities on earth -- Yuval Noah Harari on 'Affluence without Abundance'
Elegant and absorbing . Rich with ethnographic detail, stylish, perceptive, compassionate and, ultimately, tragic -- Financial Times on 'Affluence without Abundance'
Here is one of those few books that will turn your customary ways of thinking upside down. An incisive and original new history that invites us to rethink our relationship with work - and to reimagine what it means to be human in an ever-more automated future -- Susan Cain
- Publisher : Bloomsbury Publishing (20 October 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 152660499X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1526604996
- Dimensions : 16.3 x 4.5 x 24.3 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 158,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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James Suzman covers lots of topics including masked weaver birds, Kalahari and other tribes, the role of fire, animal labour, slave labour, Ricardo’s labour theory of value, barter and money economies, the Roman empire, industrialisation and Luddites, inequality, the manufacturing efficiency of Taylorism, Lubbock and reduced hours of work. But the cases discussed are a small sample to conclude that ‘for 95% of our species’ history, work did not occupy anything like the hallowed place in people’s lives that it does now’ (p127), even if this is true.
Of more contemporary relevance, Suzman covers ‘The Great Decoupling’ whereby real wages flatlined against soaring productivity (p350), and the bifurcation of the labour market into huge executive salaries and the impoverishment of undervalued jobs (p352), with amusing special derision for the McKinsey consulting company (p355, 393), workaholism, and environmental damage. Automation has led to false jobs, a bulging service sector, and ‘bureaucratic bloat’ (p385), all of which are derivative phenomena and not necessarily justified per se, - ‘jobs that served no obvious purpose other than giving someone something to do’ (p383), with low job satisfaction (p387).
Following this extensive background, Suzman does not go on to address the core implications of automation and associated unemployment, ie loss of work as income, role, and activity. He makes only short mention of universal basic income (p410), which has some claim to be an essential remedy to technological unemployment, since in a totally automated economy with no work or wage, UBI would be the only and necessary source of income. Human ontology, identity, dignity, and fulfilment will no longer rely on employment in factories and offices, but will be more intrinsic. This may represent a challenge to humanity, but one which promises fruitful outcomes. It is this philosophical switch in self-understanding from a paradigm of work dependency which Suzman could usefully have examined further.
If you’re a fan of ‘deep’ histories à la Yuval Harari you’ll love this book. It zips along, wears its scholarship lightly, and offers many a profound insight along the way. Perfect for these WFH times we live in now and for thinking about what might, or must, come next.