The History of Work

To anticipate the future, we should learn about the past.

I’ve just finished reading Richard Donkin’s wonderfully crafted The History of Work.  Well-researched and beautifully written, it should be essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand work and its future.  We talk a lot about the New World of Work or the Future of Work and bandy around buzz-words for conceptions of what could or should be, but those can be shallow ideas unless you understand how we got to where we are; how work came to be, and to mean, what it is today.

The History of WorkThe Industrial Revolution, of course, was responsible for many of the patterns and norms that we believe to be essential to today’s world of work but Donkin reaches back even to prehistoric times to understand the real nature of work, and to raise some interesting questions.  When, and why, did work become equated with something onerous?  If “primitive” tribes managed to limit their hunting to two to three days a week – or a couple of hours a day – why does modern civilisation struggle to contain itself to 40, 50, 60, 100 hours a week?  And does that matter, it we enjoy our work?  If we don’t enjoy enjoy our work, why not?

Originally published in 2001 as Blood, Sweat and Tears, the book has been updated and extended to embrace the huge change of last decade that has enabled so much that was anticipated in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Very highly recommended.

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