Book List: Top 15 Novels About Work

Posted on April 29, 2010 By bookguide Topic: Books and Literature, Book list

I read in an article that more novels about work were working people were written in the 19th century than in time to come. Call that the charms of the industrial revolution, growth of democracy and faster dissemination of information.

Of late people have started to write about work-related themes, these are mainly manifested in form of so-called chick-lits (fast-paced novels about women) and blogs. On a glad note, you will find many working women writing about their professional lives. Newscaster Mika Brzezinski 's All Things at Once is a fine example of this 'working woman memoir' genre.

Another type of non-fiction that we need more of is books telling how things get made, how everything is connected to everything, 24 hours in the life of - for example, The Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli .

We need more stories set in the workplace. We need more stories as work gets more demanding and complex, with issues frothing up every day - globalization, outsourcing, disease of buzzwords, rise of social media, media-industrial complex, cult of celebrity, over consumption, greed, government regulations, alienation, bureaucracy, aimlessness (why work?) is a long list.

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite novels about work:

1. What Should I Do with My Life?: Po Bronson travels the United States interviewing people who have found new direction with their lives.

2. Bombardiers by Po Bronson: Smart novel about life in an Investment Banking firm. Incidentally, more books, fiction and non-fiction have been written about the financial industry than others.

Michael Lewis' s "Liar Poker" and Martin Amis's "Money" are other fine examples. Of, I also forgot to mention "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis, about a rich young man who works as an investment banker with too much free time on his hands.

By now, you will have noticed all these books are about the fashionable career of Investment banking, which some say is on eof the evils behind the economic collapse in America and Europe.

3. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferriss: Novel about cynical employees of a floundering ad agency in Chicago. [Note: Ad agencies are another favorite setting for works of fiction as well as movies]

4. The Brainstormby Jenny Turner: Novel set in a Newspaper in England. Story starts with Heroine having had a memory lapse. She has forgotten who she is.

5. Animal Farm by George Orwell: This seminal novel is more than at ake on totalitarianism. It is about a disengaged management and underappreciated, sad workers.

You should also read Orwell's non-fiction narratives about his experiences: Down and Out in Paris in London (where you will learn about the unglamorous work of waiters, ploungers etc.) and Aspadistra Flying, both of which have to do with the nature of work and you will find more detail in there than most others.

6. Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville: IT is actually a long story, a novella if you may. The story is about newly hired copy boy (scrivener) who simply refuses to do any work.

7. Company by Max Barry: Novel by an Australian author about a freshly minted Business Graduate and his adventures in finding what his big new employer actually does.

8. Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain: One of the best 20th century novel about a working woman, albeit a dark story by one of the greats of noir writing. Remember 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' or 'Double Indemnity'? Mildred Pierce is a story of a middle-class housewife's attempt to maintain her and her family's social position during the Great Depression.

9. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: This great book is now part of the American Canon. Set in the depression as well. Read this for life of the working class, the poor, the unions, politics and much more. A classic.

10. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair: Written at start of the 20th century, this groundbreaking novel informed the public about the horrors of life in factories, about working conditions in particular. It also forced the American government to look anew into industrial welfare and regulations.

11. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates: A noted novel about the rise of organization and the nature of 'organization man' (and the middle class) in the 1950s. Of course, many of you must have seen the Kate Winslet starrer movie by now. On of the first novels about the complicated personal life of the modern professional.

12. Intuition by Allegra Goodman: Story about a ‘down-on-his-luck’ postdoctoral researcher in a medical research lab, who may or may not have found a cure for cancer. Read to learn how science can be a "slow exhausting work".

13. The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker: Reminisces of a young office worker as he ascends an escalator to the mezzanine of the office building where he is employed. Think of it as "Ulysses" set in an office building.

14. The Trial by Franz Kafka: In this seminal book, Josef K, the protagonist is a senior bank clerk and we get to know about his daily work a lot.

15. Look at it This Wayby Justin Cartwright: The story starts with a lion from London Zoo eating an unemployed city broker. The protagonist works on an options desk and the action takes places in the 1990s.

Updated 30.04.2010: Remains of the Day (1989) by Japanese-British author Kazuo Ishiguro: Great novel about lives of butlers and servants of the British Aristocracy. A good movie on the book starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson was made in the 1990s.

Related Readings from around the web
In search of novels about work
Where are novels about work?
My 6 favorite books about work
Three good novels about work


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