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Summary and book reviews of On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger

On the Clock

What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane

by Emily Guendelsberger

On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger X
On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2019, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2020, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tara Mcnabb
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About this Book

Book Summary

The bitingly funny, eye-opening story of a college-educated young professional who finds work in the automated and time-starved world of hourly labor.

After the local newspaper where she worked as a reporter closed, Emily Guendelsberger took a pre-Christmas job at an Amazon fulfillment center outside Louisville, Kentucky. There, the vending machines were stocked with painkillers, and the staff turnover was dizzying. In the new year, she travelled to North Carolina to work at a call center, a place where even bathroom breaks were timed to the second. And finally, Guendelsberger was hired at a San Francisco McDonald's, narrowly escaping revenge-seeking customers who pelted her with condiments.

Across three jobs, and in three different parts of the country, Guendelsberger directly took part in the revolution changing the U.S. workplace. On The Clock takes us behind the scenes of the fastest-growing segment of the American workforce to understand the future of work in America - and its present. Until robots pack boxes, resolve billing issues, and make fast food, human beings supervised by AI will continue to get the job done. Guendelsberger shows us how workers went from being the most expensive element of production to the cheapest - and how low wage jobs have been remade to serve the ideals of efficiency, at the cost of humanity.

On The Clock explores the lengths that half of Americans will go to in order to make a living, offering not only a better understanding of the modern workplace, but also surprising solutions to make work more humane for millions of Americans.

Introduction: In the Weeds

What does "in the weeds" mean to you?

I've been asking people that for a couple of years now — it's become a sort of hobby. There's two definitions, and you can often tell a lot by which one a person knows.

First, there's what I call the academic definition: "To be bogged down in the minute or unimportant details of a large project." I heard this a lot in the ten years I spent working in newspapers.
Then there's the waitress definition: "To be harried or frantic because there's more work on your plate than you can do at a reasonable pace." A key part of this definition is a feeling of desperation and hopelessness— being unable to catch up, even though you're working as fast as you possibly can.

I think of this as the waitress definition because that's who I learned it from, at my first real job, scooping ice cream as a sixteen-year-old for $5.15 an hour, the minimum wage in 2000. "Hurry up, kid,...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The author’s writing style fluctuates between hilariously candid and heartbreaking as we follow the emotional ups and downs of low-wage life...The references to science, anthropology, and psychology are fascinating, and result in a comprehensive treatise that thoughtfully examines the consequences of chronic stress and overwork...continued

Full Review Members Only (671 words).

(Reviewed by Tara Mcnabb).

Media Reviews

Lit Hub
Emily Guendelsberger's On the Clock is among the best of these new accounts of multibillion dollar corporations maximizing profit at the expense of their workforce. In Guendlesberger's case, there are some familiar villains-Amazon and McDonald's-along with a call center job, but what really separates this diaristic account is that it's funny. Which I suppose you have to be when you're doubleshifting in an Amazon warehouse a month before Christmas and the vending machines are stocked with painkillers and you don't even know if you'll have a job in the New Year. Haha!

Publishers Weekly
Guendelsberger's narration is vivid, humorous, and honest; she admits to the feelings of despair, panic, and shame that these jobs frequently inspire, allowing for a more complex and complete picture of the experience. This is a riveting window into minimum-wage work and the subsistence living it engenders.

Kirkus Reviews
An eye-opening, unrelenting exposé that uncovers the brutal wages of modern global capitalism. A natural choice for fans of Nickel and Dimed.

Booklist
Guendelsberger can go from light-hearted to dead-serious on a dime, writing with a conversational, contemporary, and heavily footnoted bent...This clear inheritor to Barbara Ehrenreich's seminal Nickle and Dimed (2001) is bound to open eyes and change minds.

Author Blurb Jessica Bruder, author of Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century
Guendelsberger's journey 'in the weeds' of low-wage America is mordantly funny, devastating and rigorous, a broadside against the exploitation of the many by the few and a warning of how easily our sociopathic economy could all come crashing down, leaving even C-suite executives to subsist on ketchup packets and worthless stock options.

Author Blurb Daniel Brook, author of The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America, A History of Future Cities, and The Accident of Color: A Story of Race in Reconstruction
Filled with compassion, fury, and an invigorating dose of hope, On The Clock is the laugh-till-you-cry exposé our laugh-till-you-cry nation deserves.

Author Blurb Alec MacGillis, author of The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell
On The Clock is a bracing, revealing tour through realms of the low-wage economy that remain invisible to too many Americans. Emily Guendelsberger is a compelling guide into this world, recounting her experiences in prose that is both barbed and appealing. On The Clock is the Nickel and Dimed for our even more harried and dehumanizing times.

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Beyond the Book

The Rise of Workplace Automation: 10 Shocking Facts

On the ClockIt's no secret that rapid innovations in technology have drastically changed the way we work. But are these changes always for the better? Here are 10 shocking facts about the rise of automation in the workplace, taken directly from the pages of Emily Guendelsberger's On The Clock.


  1. According to a 2013 study from Oxford University, 47 percent of the U.S. workforce is at risk of being replaced by computers or robots.
  2. Despite the integration of technology at work, job satisfaction in America is at an all-time low: according to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review and the Energy Project, only 37 percent of American workers feel content with their jobs.
  3. According to Robert Walker of the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research at ...

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