REVIEW: The Office: A Hardworking History by Gideon Haigh

by |May 19, 2012

The following is a short excerpt from an excellent review of The Office by Gideon Haigh in The Sydney Morning Herald, entitled…

Under the white collars
by Jose Borghino

…. Haigh is also an elegant stylist and the opening chapters, because they rely so much on visual art to represent the early history of the office, have the same confident zip and sparkle as writers such as Robert Hughes and Simon Schama at their authoritative, breezy best: ”In one 11th-century Byzantine codex, St Gregory of Nazianzus has his feet on a footrest, his work stored in a doored cabinet and his eye fixed on a bookmount that might almost be a flatscreen monitor … The St Jeromes of Jan van Eyck (c. 1435) and Domenico Ghirlandaio (c. 1480), propped on their elbows over bulky texts, even look a little bored.”

This familiar tone and formidable range of reference is enhanced by The Office’s beautiful production values. There are images everywhere – mostly in black and white – sometimes breaking up the text or occupying the outer margins of the page.

The first half of The Office is an exhilarating sweep through history, outlining the inventions and technology that have made the modern office possible.

Haigh is particularly good on architecture, especially the rise of the skyscraper. But he also devotes considerable space to the development of the elevator, the telephone, airconditioning, the typewriter, email and the cubicle. (There are also asides about staplers, water coolers and the pencil with attached eraser.)

Haigh romps through four millenniums of history with gusto, but always with a journalist’s eye for the telling anecdote and the memorable character…

The Office is not a populist book – it’s too long and too complex for that. But neither is it a dry, academic tome – it’s too well written and engaging. Read more…

Click here to buy The Office from Booktopia,
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The Office:  A Hardworking History

by Gideon Haigh

The office: for many of us, it’s where we spend more time and allocate greater effort than anywhere else. Yet how many of us have stopped to think about why?

In The Office: A Hardworking History, Gideon Haigh traces from origins among merchants and monks to the gleaming glass towers of New York and the space age sweatshops of Silicon Valley, finding an extraordinary legacy of invention and ingenuity, shaped by the telephone, the typewriter, the elevator, the email, the copier, the cubicle, the personal computer, the personal digital assistant.

Amid the formality, restraint and order of office life, too, he discovers a world teeming with dramas great and small, of boredom, betrayal, distraction, discrimination, leisure and lust, meeting along the way such archetypes as the Whitehall mandarin, the Wall Street banker, the Dickensian clerk, the Japanese salaryman, the French bureaucrat and the Soviet official.

In doing so, Haigh taps a rich lode of art and cinema, fiction and folklore, visiting the workplaces imagined by Hawthorne and Heller, Kafka and Kurosawa, Balzac and Billy Wilder, and visualised from Mary Tyler Moore to Mad Men, from Network to 9 to 5 – plus, of course, The Office. Far from simply being a place we visit to earn a living, the office emerges as a way of seeing the entire world.

The Office: it’s the history of all of us.

Gideon Haigh has been writing about sport and business for more than twenty years. He wrote regularly for The Guardian during the 2006-07 Ashes series. He has written or edited more than twenty books.

Click here to buy The Office from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. Online Book Shop

Gideon Haigh will be speaking at The Sydney Writer’s Festival today

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