Andrew Allentuck

Friday, May 25, 2001

Blood, Sweat & Tears: The Evolution of Work
by Richard Donkin
Texere, 374 pages

The scope of this book, which covers work since neolithic times, is astonishing. Author Donkin, whose day job is scribbling thumbsuckers (journalese for thought-provoking pieces) for the Financial Times of London, has produced a sweeping study of man's labours from flint napping to medieval labours to slave labour in Auschwitz to the age of the web.

Mr. Donkin's style is discursive as he roams the labour side of the production equation. For investors, he explores the value of employee share ownership plans. For managers, he examines efficiency engineering. He shows that labour is defined by available technology. That's the fundament of the supply curve and it is a small point of vast importance.

Unfortunately, much of this book is old hat, for example, the observation that women find it hard to penetrate the glass ceiling of the workplace. Other content is just cocktail party chat, i.e., "political correctness is Puritanism in disguise." But the collective work is provocative, insightful, and even useful to investors who wonder how much of their capital winds up combined with productive labour. For a quiet evening with pipe in hand and dog at foot Blood, Sweat and Tears is an intelligent, even delicious read. Mr. Donkin has turned the dull as nails question of what labour is through history into a page-turner of a book.