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Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives [Paperback]

Madeleine Bunting
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Paperback, 21 Jun 2004 --  

Book Description

21 Jun 2004

A hardhitting expose of the overwork culture and modern management techniques which seduce millions of people to hand over the best part of their lives to their employer.

The British now work the longest hours in Europe. British workers are also under more pressure: ‘job intensification’ affects every shopfloor, office, classroom and hospital, as a cult of efficiency has driven a missionary magnetism of fighter deadlines and more exacting targets in the most exploitative and manipulative work culture developed since the industrial revolution.

What do we get in return for this hard work? Stagnant wages, job insecurity, stress, exhaustion; the British workforce has not been so powerless for over a century. In the last decade, inequality has grown more sharply in Britain than at any time since the Edwardian era; the fat cats’ pay is now 25 times that of the average worker.

Willing Slaves exposes the paradox that, though we’re all being exploited, it’s work that has come to give our lives meaning: religion, political causes, family life have become secondary. This book reveals how this astonishing fraud has been perpetrated, how millions of workers know they face burnout but believe ‘there is no alternative’. Bunting tells us what we have to do to take our lives back – and what will happen if we don’t.



Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (21 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007163711
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007163717
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 905,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

‘A brilliantly thorough and thoroughly brilliant attack on the contemporary work ethic' Guardian

From the Publisher

The British now work the longest hours in Europe. British workers are also under more pressure: ‘job intensification’ affects every shopfloor, office, classroom and hospital, as a cult of efficiency has driven a missionary magnetism of fighter deadlines and more exacting targets in the most exploitative and manipulative work culture developed since the industrial revolution.

What do we get in return for this hard work? Stagnant wages, job insecurity, stress, exhaustion; the British workforce has not been so powerless for over a century. In the last decade, inequality has grown more sharply in Britain than at any time since the Edwardian era; the fat cats’ pay is now 25 times that of the average worker.

Willing Slaves exposes the paradox that, though we’re all being exploited, it’s work that has come to give our lives meaning: religion, political causes, family life have become secondary. This book reveals how this astonishing fraud has been perpetrated, how millions of workers know they face burnout but believe ‘there is no alternative’. Bunting tells us what we have to do to take our lives back – and what will happen if we don’t. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, and possibly life-changing 20 July 2004
Format:Paperback
This is an excellent book. Well researched, brilliantly argued, and, it rings horribly, savagely true. It's a kind of 'Fast Food Nation' for the overwork culture that the silent majority (in the UK) have been conned into, and come to expect as 'the norm'.
If you've ever wondered whether it was really meant to be this way, this book will at once reassure you that it's not, and kick-start you into making the required changes to get your life back.
It is not a 'self-help' / 'personal growth' book - there are enough of those. And, as the author brilliantly asserts, this focus on personal responsibility for achieving 'work / life balance' etc. is all part of the problem - cultural change, she argues, requires collective action (time to join the union!)
If you find yourself habitually slumped on the sofa on a Sunday night, after a weekend's recovery from a knackering week at work; if you've watched in silent despair as the hobbies you used to love are sacrificed; if you find yourself unable to sleep because your mind is buzzing with an overflowing 'to do' list, order this book without delay. You won't regret it.
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66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's It All For? 1 Jun 2005
Format:Paperback
This book is valuable because it offers a rare challenge to what (in England) seems to have become the accepted "norm" since the 1980's Thatcher years, i.e. that people should get up at maybe 6 a.m., get to the office as much as an hour EARLY, work through the "lunch hour" (or eat, repulsively, at the desk) and stay way beyond (maybe hours beyond) "going home time", only to face a crap 1-3 hour commute back to some little overpriced box to sleep in. What a rotten society this has become! And as the book says, in effect citing the Le Carre character, "I've paid all right--I don't know what the hell I've bought with it!" Indeed, what is "bought" with those (largely unpaid) extra hours of work and, increasingly, travel to and from work? Cheap weekends in Prague or Paris? A shiny little car to try to show off in (on roads which are crammed with other shiny little cars, so that driving is less and less of a pleasure anyway)? But many, especially the 20-40's who grew up in the 80's and 90's are indoctrinated like robot minds with the idea this life is not only normal but a good life! What a farce!

The book offers a range of anecdotes, official reports etc, showing that England is largely alone among the developed states in promoting --mostly unpaid-- extra hours of work, to combat very poor productivity and management. Yes. The only society which comes close is the USA, but from this reviewer's experience, employers in the US take their pounds of flesh another way, i.e. by giving very short holidays. On a daily basis, most Americans do not seem to do these pointlessly long hours (most of the office tower lights in Manhattan are off by 7 pm at latest, mostly by 6 pm).
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Definitely worth a read 6 Aug 2006
Format:Paperback
The book is definitely worth a read - primarily for me because the different perspectives/ experiences of people cited allow one to build a wider picture of what is actually going on.

The book provokes both thought and outrage in equal measure. By far its greatest strength for me was that it gives the lie to the CBI mantra that we need to enslave workers to remain 'competitive'.

WHAT WOULD'VE MADE IT BETTER - I think Ms Bunting doesn't go far enough. Possibly there is a need to introduce the subject in the 'personalising' way she has in order to make it relatable to readers. However, I would've liked to see a wider and more powerful critique of the fundamental underpinnings of our current society (wealth; acquisition; capital; sterotypical masculinity) that drives the many to be subtly subjugated for the few. I'm not sure the 48hr working week opt-out is the biggest enemy.

I would take issue with the previous reviewer who denigrates the UK public sector worker as cossetted (etc etc usual tired sterotypes). He has obvious zero experience of that which he speaks of. A cursory search of any major news site (BBC; Ananova etc ) will demonstrate both the lower comparative salaries and the major job cuts that the public sector have had to endure recently. The introduction of the so-called 'superior' private sector culture has only led to major pay increases for senior Whitehall mandarins, not Joe and Jill average.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
In general the book is excellent. It is easy to read, well structured, and well referenced.
The best part of the book is that it describes what appears to happening on an all-too-often basis.
However, it does not fully explain why employees behave like they do.
In other words, what it does is look at the symptoms of our so-called modern work ethic and not so much focusing on what forces are shaping the self.
We need to know more about how powerful groups influence behaviour, sustain their influence over time, and absolve themselves of the aftermath from overwork.
This I feel cannot be explained through reference to secondary resources or personal accounts.
In short, this book is provocative to the point where I would expect the book to be mentioned for some time yet as we ponder over effects of work on our non-work lives. But, the momentum needs to be continued or taken up by someone who can better explain the forces that shape behaviour in the workplace and outside the workplace.
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