Synopses & Reviews
You mean this place we go to five days a week has a history? Cubed reveals the unexplored yet surprising story of the places where most of the world's work—our work—gets done. From "Bartleby the Scrivener" to The Office, from the steno pool to the open-plan cubicle farm, Cubed is a fascinating, often funny, and sometimes disturbing anatomy of the white-collar world and how it came to be the way it is—and what it might become.
In the mid-nineteenth century clerks worked in small, dank spaces called “counting-houses.” These were all-male enclaves, where work was just paperwork. Most Americans considered clerks to be questionable dandies, who didn’t do “real work.” But the joke was on them: as the great historical shifts from agricultural to industrial economies took place, and then from industrial to information economies, the organization of the workplace evolved along with them—and the clerks took over. Offices became rationalized, designed for both greater efficiency in the accomplishments of clerical work and the enhancement of worker productivity. Women entered the office by the millions, and revolutionized the social world from within. Skyscrapers filled with office space came to tower over cities everywhere. Cubed opens our eyes to what is a truly "secret history" of changes so obvious and ubiquitous that we've hardly noticed them. From the wood-paneled executive suite to the advent of the cubicles where 60% of Americans now work (and 93% of them dislike it) to a not-too-distant future where we might work anywhere at any time (and perhaps all the time), Cubed excavates from popular books, movies, comic strips (Dilbert!), and a vast amount of management literature and business history, the reasons why our workplaces are the way they are—and how they might be better.
"Journalist Saval (an editor at n+1) offers a detailed social and cultural history of the white-collar workplace. He narrates the evolution of the office in the first decades of the 20th century and tells how 'administration and bureaucracy over the world of business.' Along came the typewriter, vertical file cabinet, managers, and efficiency experts to organize this new class of workers. The most influential and ultimately terrifying of these is Frederick 'Speedy' Taylor, the father of the time and motion study, who was responsible for 'vast caverns of bull pens and steno pools' and 'eventually workers the impression that their work was routine and dead-end.' Saval spends considerable time on the successes and failures of an office's architecture and design: Frank Lloyd Wright's radically organized Larkin Building in Buffalo in 1904 somehow leads us to Clive Wilkinson's Disneyland-like paradise for TBWA/Chiat/Day in 1997. Saval's readings of pop culture representations of the office and its workers add a lively and ironic perspective. We may have come to the point, Saval suggests, when the office may be disappearing. Self-identified as a 'work of synthesis,' the book draws heavily on the credited work of others, so one wonders about the 'Secret' of the title. Never mind. The result is an entertaining read. Agent: Edward Orloff, McCormick & Williams." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Nikil Saval graduated from Columbia in 2004 and went straight into the publishing industry as an editorial assistant. Around that time he started researching the origins of the office, which led to his n+1 article "The Birth of the Office." He is now an editor of n+1 and also writes for Slate, The New York Times, The London Review of Books, Oxford American, The LA Times, The Huffington Post, and The New Statesman.
About the Author
Nikil Saval is an editor of n+1. He lives in Philadelphia. This is his first book. His first two real jobs were as an editorial assistant in publishing companies—in cubicles.