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Publisher's Summary

"This book is a tour de force." (Adam Grant, New York Times best-selling author of Give and Take)

A revolutionary new history of humankind through the prism of work by leading anthropologist James Suzman.

Work defines who we are. It determines our status and dictates how, where, and with whom we spend most of our time. It mediates our self-worth and molds our values. But are we hardwired to work as hard as we do? Did our Stone Age ancestors also live to work and work to live? And what might a world where work plays a far less important role look like?

To answer these questions, James Suzman charts a grand history of "work" from the origins of life on Earth to our ever more automated present, challenging some of our deepest assumptions about who we are. Drawing insights from anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, zoology, physics, and economics, he shows that while we have evolved to find joy meaning and purpose in work, for most of human history our ancestors worked far less and thought very differently about work than we do now. He demonstrates how our contemporary culture of work has its roots in the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago. Our sense of what it is to be human was transformed by the transition from foraging to food production, and, later, our migration to cities. Since then, our relationships with one another and with our environments, and even our sense of the passage of time, have not been the same.  

Arguing that we are in the midst of a similarly transformative point in history, Suzman shows how automation might revolutionize our relationship with work and in doing so usher in a more sustainable and equitable future for our world and ourselves.

©2021 James Suzman (P)2021 Penguin Audio

What the critics say

"His book meticulously charts the evolution of labor over 300,000 years, a strategy that brings welcome perspective to our current economic woes. While ostensibly a science book, it is also a devastating critique of consumer capitalism and a kind of self-help guide, underlying just how abnormal our lives are by our ancestors’ standards." (The Irish Times)

"A fascinating exploration that challenges our basic assumptions on what work means. As automation threatens to completely disrupt the global job market, it is urgent to rethink the economic, psychological and even spiritual importance of work. By examining the lives of hunter-gatherers, apes and even birds, Suzman highlights that what we consider ‘natural’ is often just the questionable legacy of industrial gurus and agricultural religions. Knowing the history of how we have spent our time in the past will hopefully enable us to make more sensible choices in the future.” (Yuval Noah Harari, New York Times best-selling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind)

“Here is one of those few books that will turn your customary ways of thinking upside down. An incisive and original new history that invites us to rethink our relationship with work - and to reimagine what it means to be human in an ever-more automated future.” (Susan Cain, New York Times best-selling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking)

What listeners say about Work

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Important and well Written

This book hints at critical truth that our desire for more and endless consumer culture will not lead to a peaceful world but a world filled with more stress and anxiety.

I would like to add that this book reminds me that wealth will not be generated by over consumption but by having discipline to be “minimal” and need very little. Then by having all your needs met you can use any surplus resources to build real value that will leaded to more wealth and freedom.

Work and income is important but so is freedom from over consumption.

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All is well that ends well

Good beginning, great end. The middle was a float with anthropology nuance, needing personal experience grounding. very important book nonetheless.

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  • 2021-03-18

great book!

really a great experience with this book. it is similar to Sapiens, in that it reviews much of human and pre human history and uses this as the basis to challenge our concepts about work. really shows that most of our current ideas about identity, work culture and social groups are not permanent and we should be able to challenge these ideas and open to new concepts about what role work should play in our societies and what value we should give it.

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  • Casey
  • 2021-02-09

Fundamental

Suzman elaborates what is potentially the most important conversation of our time, drawing from wisdom across various disciplines ranging from archaeology and anthropology to physics and biology. At its core, Work brings attention to the fundamental relationship between ourselves, the energy that we require, and the entropy that we must manage in order to sustain life.

The narrative hinges on four watersheds in the history of work: the harnessing of fire, the aggregation of cities, the development of energized machinery, and the rise of computation and automation. Work: A Deep History explores the interplay between the mechanical changes in how we go about acquiring/distributing energy and the attitudes and social norms that developed alongside these changes. More than a laundry list of notable events, this book abounds with enlightening perspectives on our modern attitude towards work, on social organization, and perhaps even on our perception of purposeful live.

Excellent performance by the narrator as well!

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  • wbiro
  • 2022-02-23

Another Good Book for Polymaths

The writing doesn't reveal it readily, since it is delivered in a casual manner (a little sleepily at times), but the breadth and depth of the knowledge presented is vast, many topics being covered as perspectives and examples.

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  • Tom Craven
  • 2022-01-29

Compelling anthropology and perspectives

First, the narrator is excellent.

And is the content. Suzman has a compelling perspective on anthropological subjects from his field work in Namibia, and covers a lot of historical ground in what is clearly a well-researched way leveraging an academic background. The implications for modernity and the reader are compelling throughout. If anything the book loses a bit of steam at the end, just because modernity is better known to most readers. So you learn a lot about how and why work is as it is, but it’s less revelatory and compelling than the hunter-gatherer insights from the first half.

That said, I was sad when it ended. I recommend this book as essential reading for anyone who spends more time with their co-workers than their family.

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  • Karen
  • 2021-12-16

Didn't think I'd like it so much.

A brief history of our worst curse, work. We see how we impede our own progress by refusing to give up a 40 hour work week which was established when agriculture was our main source of work. We get a peek into how other cultures that do not live to work and hoard experience a deeper level of humanity

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2021-10-13

its not what you think it is, and thats ok

This book has a lot more to do with anthropology and how humans have evolved our purpose throughout time. It also talks about how changing circumstances effect us as a human race, and therefore how that affects our work/life. I enjoyed this book regardless, just be aware it doesn't really dig in to the "why we work" the way one might think.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2021-03-25

Wow

Really makes you rethink the priorities and mechanisms of our modern economic systems.
Great book!

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  • Liz Jardine
  • 2021-03-13

What a world history lesson this book is!!!

This book is about so much more than 'work'. When I attempt to describe it to friends the title 'Work' doesn't begin to describe it. The research behind it is so extensive that I learned so much more than simply the history of work. I learned about the efforts of animals as well as humans on this planet and began to truly contemplate the meaning of work in the past as well as the present & implications for the future. Thank you so much. Sincerely, Liz Jardine

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  • Charles J. Nagele
  • 2021-02-05

really enjoyed the history of work

From the hunter/gatherers to the agricultural era and then to the industrial age, it is a great history of how we Sapiens create and use our energy thru work. Connected a lot of dots in my understanding of the existence of the Homo Species and the transition to agriculture.

Did not give it a 5 because a little disappointed in that their wasn't much discussion on where we are going with the impact of robotics and AI on work. Maybe the author is doing a WORK 2.0 book to develop those projections.

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  • Geoff Switz
  • 2022-07-01

tasty brain food

this book is not hard to follow. it is full of interesting facts and tidbits. it doesn't draw many conclusions for you. i listened while exercising and thoroughly enjoyed it. it's nice collection of ideas and information about work.

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  • Ryan D
  • 2022-05-10

interesting, but heavy emphasis on ancient history

I did enjoy the book, but expected it to focus more on work in the modern Era. It covered societal forces over time that shaped work, but had a heavy emphasis on ancient history.