A Secret History of the Workplace

Book - 2014 | 1st ed.
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You mean this place we go to five days a week has a history ? Cubed reveals the unexplored yet surprising story of the places where most of the world's work--our work--gets done. From "Bartleby the Scrivener" to The Office , from the steno pool to the open-plan cubicle farm, Cubed is a fascinating, often funny, and sometimes disturbing anatomy of the white-collar world and how it came to be the way it is--and what it might become.

In the mid-nineteenth century clerks worked in small, dank spaces called "counting-houses." These were all-male enclaves, where work was just paperwork. Most Americans considered clerks to be questionable dandies, who didn't do "real work." But the joke was on them: as the great historical shifts from agricultural to industrial economies took place, and then from industrial to information economies, the organization of the workplace evolved along with them--and the clerks took over. Offices became rationalized, designed for both greater efficiency in the accomplishments of clerical work and the enhancement of worker productivity. Women entered the office by the millions, and revolutionized the social world from within. Skyscrapers filled with office space came to tower over cities everywhere. Cubed opens our eyes to what is a truly "secret history" of changes so obvious and ubiquitous that we've hardly noticed them. From the wood-paneled executive suite to the advent of the cubicles where 60% of Americans now work (and 93% of them dislike it) to a not-too-distant future where we might work anywhere at any time (and perhaps all the time), Cubed excavates from popular books, movies, comic strips ( Dilbert! ), and a vast amount of management literature and business history, the reasons why our workplaces are the way they are--and how they might be better.

Publisher: New York : Doubleday, c2014.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780385536578
Branch Call Number: 651.09 SAVAL
Characteristics: ix, 352 p. : ill. ; 25 cm


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LPL_DirectorBrad Sep 10, 2016

Completely fascinating outlook at the development (and future obliteration?) of the office. There is a lot of smart synthesis of history, cultural studies, and examples from literature. Not just do we see the story of the creation of the office, but we are witness to the psychology of work and labor relations. I completely loved this book and look forward to discussing with co-workers what our best approach to making the most useful office space could and should be. Highly recommended!

JCLHopeH Jun 14, 2016

This was a surprisingly fun read. It's a mix of so many topics: history, architecture, gender roles, furniture, industry, social culture. Nikil Saval brings a lot of light-hearted commentary into his account of how the workplace as evolved over time. If you've ever sat behind a desk (maybe even from the Herman Miller "Action Office" product line), you're bound to find an enjoyable nugget or two in this book.

Ivan W. Taylor
Nov 06, 2014

As a life long office worker, I found this book and excellent history. There may have been a little too much discussion of architecture but I really enjoyed the sections on the history of office work and cubicles especially.

Jun 30, 2014

Synthesizes history from academics, workers, and pop culture to explain why offices are the way they are: the buildings, the furniture, and the culture. An interesting read, but not an authoritative reference source.

BCD2013 May 06, 2014

NYPL Staff Pick
There have been books about coal mines, fire houses, factory floors and schools - all interesting (and sometimes dangerous) places. But what about the office cubicle - the place, in fact, from which I’m writing this right now? Where is that book? Well, by drawing on film, popular books, comic strips and business literature, Nikil Saval has written just that book: a cultural history of the office. Cubed is an enlightening, entertaining and witty examination of the evolution of the office space.
- Wayne Roylance

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