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Choosing the books that shaped how Americans work

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  December 30, 2013 10:00 AM

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Compiling any kind of "essential" reading list is a fraught endeavor, and all the more so when the compiler is the United States government and the topic is hyperpolitical, like "labor." But that hasn't stopped the United States Department of Labor from marking its centennial by assembling a list of "books that shaped work in America." Rather than make the choices itself, the DoL outsourced the work- first to a panel of big names who chose the first 100 or so titles, and after that to members of the public, who can nominate books using this form. So which books made the cut? The list is diverse, and includes the novel "The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton (nominated by Liz Claman an anchor on the Fox Business Network), the children's book "Busy, Busy Town" by Richard Scarry (nominated by Thomas Perez, the current Secretary of Labor), classics of 20th century intellectual history like Gunnar Myrdal's "An American Dilemma," on the persistence of racial divisions in the U.S., (nominated by Ray Marshall, Secretary of Labor under Jimmy Carter), and even "The Guinness Book of World Records," which bookstore owners Jenesse Evertson and Jill Stefanovich, who nominated the book, describe as a tribute to the "magic of 'maximalism.'" You can browse the complete list- by title, author, or recommender- here.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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