My Top 10 Most Important Reads in 2021:
#3- Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots by James Suzman
If you’ve ever wondered about how it is that our society with its 5 day work week and economic/social expectations came to be this is a wonderful book that tracks the history from the Stone age to an educated guess on an imagined future. History gives context and the context raises questions you might have and never ever realized you had.
More than this though this book hit on some interesting philopshical concerns when it comes to seeing this history as a bit of a complicated beast. For me it actually completely reoriented my sense of how and why we work and what work means. One point of perspective that I found especially interesting was Suzmans interest in the discovery of fire as the key transitional point in moving from a view of abundance to the dominant view of scarcity, transforming our relationship to work in ways that life, in its largest sense, had never known before. Whereas our relationship to work before this was determined by an equation of energy taken and energy given, the discovery of fire was the first time life outsourced that energy to something external to itself. This was of course a precursor to the industrial and technological revolutions where out sourcing our spent energy to something external to oursleves has become a mark of humanity’s progress. How we parse through this complicated reality is part of what this book sets out to do.
These historical and evolutionary/adaptive truths are intricately tied then to how we understand the development of human societies with our relationship to work remaining a key part of this equation. This means that understanding what work is and why we work is crucial to our understanding of larger systemic and social realities. This book offers a way into those conversations from a unique angle. For me it also turned me inwards forcing me to ask hard questions of myself as well, especially when it comes to how I operate, even if subconsciously, according to a rule of scarcity rather than abundance, and also in terms of how difficult it actually is to reform ones relationship to work in a society where a particular view of work is so integrated and bound to life itself. Living differently and making changes comes with all sorts of challenges and risks and obstacles.
In any case, this has probably been my 2nd most cited book of 2021 and I’ve found myself talking about its ideas quite a bit, which makes it an easy pick for this slot.