The Corrosion of Character

The Corrosion of Character : The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism

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In The Corrosion of Character, Richard Sennett, "among the country's most distinguished thinkers ...has concentrated into 176 pages a profoundly affecting argument" (Business Week) that draws on interviews with dismissed IBM executives, bakers, a bartender turned advertising executive, and many others to call into question the terms of our new economy. In his 1972 classic, The Hidden Injuries of Class (written with Jonathan Cobb), Sennett interviewed a man he called Enrico, a hardworking janitor whose life was structured by a union pay schedule and given meaning by his sacrifices for the future. In this new book-a #1 bestseller in Germany-Sennett explores the contemporary scene characterized by Enrico's son, Rico, whose life is more materially successful, yet whose work lacks long-term commitments or loyalties. Distinguished by Sennett's "combination of broad historical and literary learning and a reporter's willingness to walk into a store or factory [and] strike up a conversation" (New York Times Book Review), this book "challenges the reader to decide whether the flexibility of modern capitalism merely a fresh form of oppression" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).Praise for The Corrosion of Character: "A benchmark for our time."-Daniel Bell "[A]n incredibly insightful book."-William Julius Wilson "[A] remarkable synthesis of acute empirical observation and serious moral reflection."-Richard Rorty "[Sennett] offers abundant fresh insights ...illuminated by his concern with people's struggle to give meaning to their lives."-[Memphis] Commercial Appealshow more

Product details

  • Paperback | 176 pages
  • 139.7 x 208.28 x 12.7mm | 158.76g
  • WW Norton & Co
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0393319873
  • 9780393319873
  • 74,317

About Richard Sennett

Richard Sennett's books include The Corrosion of Character, Flesh and Stone, and Respect. He was the founding director of the New York Institute for the Humanities and now teaches sociology at New York University and at the London School of more

Review Text

The roots of a modern tragedy are exposed. Today's workplace is not what it once was. Gone are the days of corporate loyalty and rewarding seniority found in the immediate post-WWII work environment. Today the rapidity of change impedes attempts to even describe the contemporary norm, and when dynamism becomes normal, Sennett (Flesh and Stone, 1994, etc.; Sociology/New York Univ.) worries about the impact the new workplace has on the people who work there. The belief that work is closely related to character has deep roots in Western society, and in an era where capitalism is evolving far more rapidly than human beings, there is good reason to worry. That a capitalist economy involves change, or uncertainty, or risk, is nothing new. Entrepreneurs have long driven the economy forward, in part, by embracing these conditions as the cost of potentially realizing large rewards. Today, however, conscious risk-takers have no monopoly on uncertainty; it's "woven into the everyday practices of a vigorous capitalism," and risk has become "a daily necessity shouldered by the masses." Through interviews, observations, and statistics set against the background of a similar study undertaken 25 years ago, Sennett captures the tension this creates between contemporary work and human life. What is the place of commitment, sacrifice, caring for others, and looking beyond immediate personal satisfaction when work requires setting such archaic notions aside? In essence, there is a dissonance over time. The constancy associated with good character is directly at odds with the realities of the contemporary workplace: "the conditions of time in the new capitalism . . . [threaten] the ability of people to form their characters into sustained narratives." Sennett is no Luddite, but this deeply provacative essay exposes the continuing human cost of progress. A depressingly perceptive analysis. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

714 ratings
3.88 out of 5 stars
5 27% (191)
4 42% (301)
3 25% (180)
2 4% (30)
1 2% (12)
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