Review of The Job

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  • Eye Opening
  • Bold
  • Engaging


Academician Ellen Ruppel Shell combines the popular Hillbilly Elegy, Janesville and AI-automation genres into a bold, original and controversial take on the United States’ labor market and its political environment. She demolishes conventional wisdom regarding worker skill shortages, the value of a STEM college education and the pursuit of passion at work. Shell believes most American toil in a vicious cycle of eroding real wages, diminished security and demeaning work that they or their children cannot escape. Workers, leaders, business owners, educators and students will find a lot to discuss in Shell’s arguments

About the Author

Award-winning writer Ellen Ruppel Shell teaches science journalism at Boston University and writes for The Atlantic, New York Magazine and Time.


Many jobs in the United States pay little and demean their workers. 

Ellen Ruppel Shell asserts that workers in the United State spend more time at work than anywhere else. Since the 1970s, she says, stagnated salaries have fueled a polarized workforce. Demeaning, low-paying jobs rule one end of the job spectrum while far fewer prestigious, high-paying careers rule the other. The middle no longer exists. White-collar professionals face 50-, 60-, even 100-hour workweeks. Many believe that working long hours helps them compete and signals their value, but Shell points out that they give up relationships and lives outside of work. “The meaning we gain from our work is no gift,” she writes, “but very much a product of our own efforts.”

Advisers implore you to find passion at work. But this is a sick and destructive joke for all except a few. 

Shell notes that parents, teachers, politicians and pundits encourage you to find your passion. Yet according to research by Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski, workers tend to fall into three groups. The first is made up of those who view their work as a job – they do it, earn their pay and seek fulfillment elsewhere. The second group is composed of careerists for whom work and professional success provide self-worth. Those who see work as a calling and find self-actualization in it rather than in relationships make up the third group. Most jobs pay so little and demand so much, Shell reports, that they offer no passion or self-fulfillment. A calling can turn into a curse, narrowing your life and making you vulnerable to demanding employers. Chief executive officers tend to perpetuate the notion of finding a calling at work, but that ideal beckons people who are willing to devote their lives to furthering their corporations. “While…many jobs require commitment,” the author writes, “passion is perhaps better reserved for matters of the heart.”

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