"Working" is a remarkably book of interviews, containing lots of no-holds-barred confession of what work means to the people in the different industries. Daily responsibilities were talked about frankly, and sometimes crude vocabulary was honestly inserted to depict the 'real-life' sentiments felt by the workers about their attitude toward their jobs. In doing so, Terkel allows the common worker to speak for themselves, yet loosely bringing together common themes like diligence, acceptance, pride, discrimination and office related politics. The range is so wide that it takes a master to be able to select which industries and to compile the interviews into the nine common categories. Terkel does it professionally and sensitively. One of the most memorable statements in that book is an interview with a banker-turned-fireman who said:
“I worked in a bank. You know, it’s just paper. It’s not real. Nine to five and it’s shit. You’re looking at numbers. But I can look back and say, ‘I helped put out a fire. I helped save somebody.’ It shows something I did on this earth.” (Tom Patrick)We may not have to agree with Tom Patrick but the fact that he is able to speak it with conviction is commendable. I am personally impressed with how he is able to draw out the inner person from his interviewees.
Called the world's greatest interviewer, Terkel died today at the age of 96.