WLRN #FridayReads: Celebrating Labor Day With Books

Sep 1, 2017

Work: It's just one of the many reasons to explain why Americans love the weekend so much.

This weekend, however, we're going to give you a little bit more of it - in book form, that is. It is Labor Day weekend, after all, so we're celebrating. 

So, to honor U.S. workers, we're giving you a list of recommended reads on the past, present and future of work in America.

Alí R. Bustamante, Ph.D. - labor economist, professor of economy at Florida International University


The American Way of Poverty by Sasha Abramsky

Every few years someone writes a book about the lives of the working poor in the U.S. Most authors push the reader to feel sympathy for the cleaners, fast-food workers and nursing aides and leave us thinking about how lucky we are. Abramsky masterfully escapes this trope by forcing us to acknowledge the structures that create working poverty and impose suffering on millions of working Americans and their families.

I recommend this book because everyone should be reminded that the low-wage, dangerous and drowning jobs that millions of Americans endure are not natural. Americans and their policymakers can and should promote better employment opportunities so that everyone can access a dignified life. They would be the better for it.

Dr. John Robertson, senior policy advisor and economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab

The rapid growth in the development and use of artificial intelligence and related technologies is going to dramatically change the nature of work.  For workers today and the future there is considerable uncertainty about the extent to which new technologies will substitute for labor versus generating demand for new goods and services that create new types of jobs.  This book provides insights on these forces in the context of everything from the wearable internet to the sharing economy, and from industrial robotics to neuro technologies.

Dr. Stuart Andreason, senior community and economic development advisor at Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

The Second Machine Age explores the changes happening with recent technological improvements and what it will mean for work in the future. The authors explore new advancements like autonomous cars, artificial intelligence and other potential major disrupters to the labor market in the future.

Tom Hudson, vice president of news and special correspondent for WLRN

Collected Poems of Robert Service by Robert Service

With a surname of Service, perhaps it was just destiny (if you believe in that sort of thing) that Robert Service would put his working life to service in his writing. He was a cowboy, farm hand, store clerk, and a volunteer ambulance driver during World War I. But it was his time as a banker, his family's business, spent among the wilderness of the Yukon in the years after the Gold Rush that sparked his most well-known work.


Service was not a fancy poet. He was a campfire poet. His rhyming rhythms are not complex. His writing isn't labored. It can be dismissed for its readability. Some may find his subject matter — frontier town saloon characters, desolate wilderness and wanderlust — boring. He wrote about toiling away against an indifferent natural landscape. But embedded in his stories are imagery of grit, beauty, and a sly playfulness — qualities making hard work tolerable and, at its best, rewarding.

WLRN staff suggestion

Working by Studs Terkel

Yes, we know, the point of Labor Day is to celebrate work by not working. But public radio isn't just our job — it's our life. And in the radio world, Studs Terkel is king.

This is an anthology of the many, many interviews the legendary radioman conducted with ordinary people in Chicago and beyond during his decades behind the mic. As the subtitle puts it, telephone operators and secretaries, mechanics and private eyes talk about "what they do all day and how they feel about what they do." It's inspired many a budding public radio reporter and oral historian, and for a low-key Labor Day read, you can't beat picking up this collection and diving into a story or two.