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Who wrote the book on work? Lots of people

Who wrote the book on work? Lots of people

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Published : 2014-01-02 19:27
Updated : 2014-01-02 19:27

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 144 million people were employed in the United States ― people who are making a living, keeping the country going, stoking the engine of the economy and living their lives in the American story.

All of this hyperbole is to lead up to the news that the Labor Department, in partnership with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, has created a new section on its website to list books that have shaped work in America.

The books are as varied as the topic.

Take Richard Scarry’s children’s book, “What do people do all day.” It’s a primer for little kids ― and bosses ― about what all of those people who work do. For example, it contains the preschool economics lesson on Farmer Alfalfa who grows food, sells it to the grocer and then uses that to buy things like a new tractor, clothing and earrings for his wife. He puts the rest in the bank.

The 1968 book, which is still being sold today, includes some occupations that don’t exist or just barely do, such as the switchboard operator and the secretary taking dictation from the executive.

Also for kids, a visitor to the website suggested “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type” by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin, published in 2000. It’s the story of a herd of cows in a barn that find a typewriter and go on a milk strike until they get electric blankets from the farmer.

The project to list books that shaped work in America asked the current and eight former labor secretaries (Democrat and Republican), a Fox News personality, the president of the National Urban League and staffers from the Labor Department to list books that have shaped work in America.

Once that first site was up earlier this month, the staff opened up suggestions to people outside the department. There is a hyperlink on the opening page for readers to submit their own suggestions.

Now at nearly 100 books, it is a diverse list.

It includes the ubiquitous “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard Nelson Bolles that, if not read, has at least been bought by millions of job seekers since 1970.

There are books that changed the nature of work, such as Upton Sinclair’s 1906 work “The Jungle,” which brought attention to the oppressive conditions for workers in Chicago’s meatpacking industry.

“Silent Spring” (1962) by Springdale-native Rachel Carson, which led to restrictions on the use of the pesticide DDT, is also on the list.

There are books about current working conditions, such as Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” about struggles faced by the working poor.

And the difficulties of women in the working world are represented in “The Girls in the Balcony” by Nan Robertson (1992). It is about the gender discrimination case against The New York Times brought by female reporters and editors.

The list also contains books about the experience of African-Americans written in three different centuries, from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852) and Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” (1883) to Richard Wright’s “Native Son” (1940) and Pittsburgh-native August Wilson’s series of 10 plays “The Pittsburgh Cycle” (1982-2005) and Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns” (2010) about the Great Migration north.

More books will be added as visitors to the site make suggestions.

The website is: http://www.dol.gov/100/books-shaped-work/

By Ann Belser

(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

(MCT Information Services)

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