The Story of Work
The first truly global history of work, an upbeat assessment from the age of the hunter-gatherer to the present day
“Beginning in the hunting-and-gathering past, this long view of work shows how little has changed over millennia. Progressing through the rise of cities, wages and markets for labour, it traces a perennial cycle of injustice and resistance-and the age-old desire for more.”-The Economist, “Best Books of 2021”
“Absolutely fascinating. . . . Lucassen’s own compassion shines through this magisterial book.”-Christina Patterson, The Guardian
We work because we have to, but also because we like it: from hunting-gathering more than 700,000 years ago to the present era of zoom meetings, humans have always worked to make the world around them serve their needs.
Jan Lucassen provides an inclusive history of humanity’s busy labor throughout the ages. Spanning China, India, Africa, the Americas, and Europe, Lucassen looks at the ways in which humanity organizes work: in the household, the tribe, the city, and the state. He examines how labor is split between men, women, and children; the watershed moment of the invention of money; the collective action of workers; and the impact of migration, slavery, and the idea of leisure.
From peasant farmers in the first agrarian societies to the precarious existence of today’s gig workers, this surprising account of both cooperation and subordination at work throws essential light on the opportunities we face today.
'An encyclopaedic and opinion-packed tour de force ranging over millennia. We may need to work to be useful, to give our lives meaning, to cooperate and for our self-esteem; but some ways of organizing work are so much fairer and more rewarding than others. A brilliant book.'-Danny Dorling, author of Slowdown 'If being forced to work feels bad, it is nowhere near as bad as having no worthwhile work to do. Lucassen's masterly book shows how the human need for fulfilment in shared tasks has confronted technological and social forces that pit us against each other in a struggle to appropriate the material rewards of work and the esteem that comes with it.'-Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers 'This magisterial study distils a life's work to make sense of labour relations over millennia. Lucassen probes the degrees of freedom under which people have created meaning, sought cooperation and demanded fairness in households, plantations, workshops and factories across the globe.'-Eileen Boris, author of Making the Woman Worker 'Lucassen brilliantly anchors world history in human agency through work. In every era, he finds the household as the backbone of work - the site of domestic labour and the source of social labour. Throughout, he illustrates the principles of meaning, cooperation and fairness in work. A memorable volume.'-Patrick Manning, author of A History of Humanity
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