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Shadow Work

The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day

List Price: $16.95

May 10, 2016 | Paperback | 6 x 9, 208 Pages | ISBN 9781619025257
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“…[Lambert] explores all the ways corporations and new technologies fiendishly generate new tasks for us—each of them seemingly insignificant but amounting to many hours of annoyance.” —New York Times Book Review

With the exception of sleep, humans spend more of their lifetimes on work than any other activity. It is central to our economy, society, and the family. It underpins our finances and our sense of meaning in life. Given the overriding importance of work, we need to recognize a profound transformation in the nature of work that is significantly altering lives: the incoming tidal wave of shadow work.

Shadow work includes all the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organizations. It has slipped into our routines stealthily; most of us do not realize how much of it we are already doing, even as we pump our own gas, scan and bag our own groceries, execute our own stock trades, and build our own unassembled furniture. But its presence is unmistakable, and its effects far-reaching.

Fueled by the twin forces of technology and skyrocketing personnel costs, shadow work has taken a foothold in our society. Lambert terms its prevalence as “middle-class serfdom,” and examines its sources in the invasion of robotics, the democratization of expertise, and new demands on individuals at all levels of society. The end result? A more personalized form of consumption, a great social leveling (pedigrees don’t help with shadow work!), and the weakening of communities as robotics reduce daily human interaction.

Shadow Work offers a field guide to this new phenomenon. It shines a light on these trends now so prevalent in our daily lives and, more importantly, offers valuable insight into how to counter their effects. It will be essential reading to anyone seeking to understand how their day got so full — and how to deal with the ubiquitous shadow work that surrounds them.

CRAIG LAMBERT is the author of Mind Over Water: Lessons on Life from the Art of Rowing. He is a former staff writer and editor at Harvard Magazine and has also written for Sports Illustrated and Town & Country. He graduated from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in sociology, also from Harvard, in 1978.


“…[Lambert] explores all the ways corporations and new technologies fiendishly generate new tasks for us — each of them seemingly insignificant but amounting to many hours of annoyance.” —New York Times Book Review

“An insightful and original book that lit up areas of daily life I’d never looked at before. Lambert does a brilliant service by explaining where our vanished, old-fashioned free time went, and why.” —Ian Frazier, author of Travels in Siberia

“You doubtless feel too busy to read yet more about why we all feel so busy, but here’s a short book to put on your long to-do list. Even if you have time only to skim it, you’ll see your lack of leisure in a fresh light… before you can hope to rebalance your time, you’d better first understand how you actually spend it.” —The Atlantic

“[An] insightful work… [Lambert’s] observations are both illuminating and disturbing, and well worth considering.” —Publishers Weekly

“Lambert’s guide to this phenomenon explains how the modern American’s day has gotten so full, offering some unique insights into the ubiquitous tasks that lengthen the work day and creep into downtime. This will interest and enlighten futurists and those with curiosity in the ways technological trends have both changed and will continue to alter the undercurrent of modern life.” —Library Journal

“An appealingly different view of employment based on what people actually do and not just statistics.” —Kirkus

“Increasingly, time is our scarcest resource. Craig Lambert’s important book will change how you think about your days. Shadow Work is a new and vitally important concept for understanding the new economy. Lambert’s arguments need to be carefully considered by all who ponder our economic future.” —Lawrence H. Summers, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Professor and President Emeritus of Harvard University

“With precision, wit, and erudition, Craig Lambert identifies the invisible drains on our leisure time — and on our mental and emotional freedoms. None of us signed up for all of this pro bono overtime for corporations. How can we quit? This book shows the problem’s economic and social causes — and even better, suggests an escape route.” —Virginia Heffernan, author of Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet

“Without any debate or conscious choice, during the last couple of decades technology has radically changed the premises and nature of everyday life and work. We may know this, more or less, but reading Shadow Work still triggers multiple “D’oh!” moments. Craig Lambert lucidly, thoughtfully, and provocatively connects the dots of this profound, pervasive, and unfinished social and economic transformation.” —Kurt Andersen, author of True Believers and host of Studio 360

“Who knows what larceny lurks in the heart of our economy? Lambert knows.” —Roy Blount Jr., author of Alphabet Juice

“Where have all the sales clerks/bank tellers/travel agents gone? Long time passing, along with the secretaries, waitstaff, ticket agents, and so many more. Those jobs still exist, but now you, the so-called customer, are doing them — without pay, of course, and on your own time. As Craig Lambert shows in this mordant, mischievous book, our no-service gig economy gives new meaning to the phrase ‘free market.’” —Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker

“Think you know how you spend your days? Think again. Shadow Work is a visionary book that will change the way you look at—well, just about everything.” —Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

“I’ve been enjoying Craig Lambert’s work for decades in Harvard Magazine. He can make any topic clear, readable, and fascinating. And here he’s got a great story: the excess ‘shadow work’ we’ve all taken on in the modern age. From the first page, he’ll have you looking at your life, and the world, in a whole new way.” —Mike Reiss, Emmy Award-winning writer of The Simpsons

“Shadow work is all the things we do — from assembling our own furniture to booking our own travel — that has become the new normal. And like everything that becomes the new normal, it is invisible. Lambert’s ambition is substantial: to make that invisible visible. His hope is that once we see where we are, we can make some choices about where we want to go. A deft writer; a compelling case.” —Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

“Craig Lambert combines his gifts as sociologist and detective to solve that perennial mystery: where has all our time gone? In Shadow Work he reveals how we unwittingly perform labors that companies used to do, but have offloaded onto us. Reading Shadow Work will be full of ‘A-ha!’ moments for readers. It’s delightful, surprising, witty, and smart.” —Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

Shadow Work is an eye-opening exposé of the countless subtle ways in which corporations and other large organizations are conscripting all of us to donate our invaluable time and labor to advance their economic and other goals, without our consent and often even without our awareness. By bringing this serious problem out of the shadows, this important book makes an essential contribution toward countering it.” —Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law at New York Law School and former President of the ACLU

“This book will revolutionize the way you look at how you spend your time — doing countless hours of unpaid work for The Man. Like Malcolm Gladwell, Craig Lambert brilliantly reveals the hidden currents of contemporary life.” —Daniel Klein, co-author of Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes

“Even though you may be busy with shadow work, make time to read this book! Craig Lambert helps to raise our levels of awareness of how, without noticing it, we have become slaves to countless tasks and chores. Shadow Work can help us leave this modern form of slavery behind so that we can begin to live more deliberately, fully, freely.” —Tal Ben-Shahar, author of Happier

Shadow Work is a game changer. Craig Lambert opens our eyes to how we are enticed and then burdened into doing work that years ago was done by others — work that isolates us from community. He allows us to appreciate why children can no longer play because soccer Moms have taken over the sandlots. Adults enjoy leisure on paper and believe they have organized the perfect life. Only Lambert again and again provides fresh detail to show that we aren’t living it. This book will be a favorite of book clubs as the new generation tries to recover what the past generation has just lost — their free time!” —George E. Vaillant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Triumphs of Experience

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