Multi Book Review: Dec Menage 08

Citizen Reader’s Menage Challenge for this month was to read and discuss two books about ‘labor in America’, I offer the following quick thoughts:

How To Tell When You’re Tired httwyatrt A Brief Examination of WORK by Reg Theriault   [WWNorton & Co. 1995, 188 pages]

“This is an immensely readable book and full of anecdotes… offers an original, insider’s addition to the extensive literature on work.”   -Jeremy Seabrook, The New Statesman

I did enjoy Mr. Theriault’s descriptions of being a longshoreman and his explanations of the work involved as well as the ‘improvements’ mandated by management in order to get more work done with fewer workers.    He also talks about how he grew up in a family of migrating fruit pickers and how that job/industry has changed over the years.

However, he over simplifies and seems to state that management is just plain evil and that all ‘they’ want to do is squeeze the workers; that workers have been de-humanized and are just the lowest cog in the machine.     I believe that horrible examples can always be found to support this claim but it’s too broad.    Perhaps my own bias of my college education in industrial engineering cannot be overcome, nor can I argue the other side any more effectively.      He only gives a few paragraphs to address how unions may not be great for workers, either.

Alas, no easy solutions are offered to address the complaint that the people who do the hard labor will always be exploited for and by the mighty dollar.

I gave this 2 stars for ‘Only OK’ but I admit:  it was easy and quick to read, it lit my fires of opinion, and gave me MUCH to think about.    The history of ‘work’ is interesting and Theriault is a good writer.

Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the Global Economy nodies by John Bowe [Random House; 1 edition (September 18, 2007) 336 pages]

I gave this 4 stars based on the quality of the writing and my admiration for how the book was told.   The author is as much of the book as the ideas discussed.   I particularly enjoyed his descriptions of the people he interviewed and his thoughts on how he approached his research.

The book is in three parts:

The first explores the orange pickers in Florida and how a certain area is involved with slavery!   I had no idea.   But I can understand how hard it might be for the government to fight this situation.

The seond part is about a case in Tulsa where a company designed a training program for welders ‘imported’ from India and how they were essentially made to feel trapped at the plant!    It was an excellent expose of how people can be immoral or is it amoral? and still be likable.   Many shades of gray and he-said-she-said nuances to what really happened.     The company definitely violated US Labor Laws.

The third part of the book is about the Northern Mariana Islands, a ‘territory’ of the US that imports workers, mostly from Asia, to work in the garment industry.    Fascinating; all I can say.

I would recommend this book for Eva’s World Citizen Challenge, although I’m not sure about the idea to not read books that are from your own country.     So, maybe I can recommend it for non-USers?

What about it? Do you think about or care about the people who touched those products that you like to buy so cheaply?      Will it change your approach to defining yourself as a consumer?

I would like to answer that yes, I do care.   But…     Will it matter?   Will I change what I buy?      Can you ‘care’ about this topic without it changing every single purchasing decision?   Is it possible?   Or will I have to live off the grid, grow my own food, make my own clothes (learn to sew)…  or I’ll be a hypocrite?   Sigh, I have no idea…

These two books show me that it is extremely easy to bury my head in the sand…

5 thoughts on “Multi Book Review: Dec Menage 08

  1. Thanks for recommending Nobodies, Care. It’s certainly one I’ll keep in mind for the challenge.

    I do a cowardly thing, which is kind of avoid information about certain topics for the time being, because I know that at this point I can’t afford to make significant changes in my lifestyle. Hopefully it won’t take much longer for me to be able to truly live according to what I believe in when it comes to what I buy, what I eat, being even more environmentally conscientious, etc.

    I’m wondering about this, too. We are allowed to ease into our beliefs, yes? And 100% may not be do-able but trying a little in the right direction is good, right? If we thought we had to be perfect all the time, nothing would get done and yet that concept that ‘Good enough’ is the opposite of good, always makes me stop in my tracks… AAauuugghh!

  2. Wow, Nobodies sounds like a must-read. I had no idea.

    I didn’t either. It was a fascinating book and not like any I’ve read. My nonfiction has almost always been more memoirs and bios, not ‘big’ concepts. Rarely politics, sometimes history but usually not ‘now’ stuff.

  3. I get frustrated by nonfiction that tries to oversimplify. I felt the same way about Everything Bad is Good For You when I read it this summer.

    I have to agree with Nymeth — I’d love to be more conscious about what I buy and where I buy it from, but sometimes I just can’t afford it. I’ve been trying to do it lately, mostly with things I think are extra purchases (books, for example, I’ve been trying to buy used and from independent stores). Nobodies sounds really interesting though, I will have to look for it.

  4. I need to read Nobodies-I had it checked out a few months ago, but didn’t quite get around to it. 😦 It will definitely be on my recommended list; I think I’ll put it under global issues as a book about trafficking.

  5. Both of these books look really interesting, I’m adding them to my list and will have a look when I visit the US in a week. I particularly like the sound of the Nobodies book.

    Oh good. I’m interested in your thoughts on these.

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