Audiobook Review: Cubed

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, by Nikil Saval, read by Stephen Hoye

In what has likely been the case in every secret history since that of Procopius in the days of the Byzantine Empire, what is delivered by this secret history is not what is promised. This is particularly ironic in that the author, an expatriate of Southern Indian descent, continually delights in pointing out how the office has failed to meet up to its many utopian promises to workers and to society at large. This book seeks to provide a secret history of the workplace, but what it delivers is a tired and biased leftist critique of the office. It has little interest in the workplace as a whole, if one speaks of farms and mines and factories, or working at home, and has a great deal to say about the design and practice of employers and employees within office buildings from their origins as counting houses in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe and North America. Whatever the author’s claims, the aim of the book is transparent, to encourage and foment discontent among an office proletariat [1] that has not tended to be unified in any political aim, much less the Marxism believed and practiced by the author.

The contents of this book are more or less straightforward, even if something different than the subtitle of the book itself. The book consists of a large chronological examination of the office as a workplace, examining its design history, its view in culture, particularly where the office and white collar workers are critiqued, and viewing the behavior of corporations, particularly the bad faith they have shown to their workers, their gender and class discrimination, and the way that office workers themselves have shied away from direct confrontation with exploitative workplaces. The book’s heroes are all too obvious, radical liberals representing secretaries tired of the lack of decent working conditions and personal respect, or daring architects who attempt to break the mold of office life only to find their creations twisted and perverted, every design intended to increase freedom among office workers leading to a proliferation of cube farms and the increase of degradation and exploitation, or the slackers of Office Space and other fantasies of office chaos or the rise of people above their origins. The book begins with the beginnings of the accounts of the office in the early 1800’s and its appearance in the literature of Herman Melville and ends in the uncertain and precarious days of the early 21st century.

If the history of the office has yet to be written, that is largely because the office has seldom been seen merely as a type of workplace or a place, but always as a symbol of something greater. In the author’s mindset, it is the symbol of an exploitative capitalistic order that seeks to increase profits and lower costs and degrade all labor to the level of mere resources and items, like Ikea furniture or cubical walls, or the symbol of the wasteful and speculative ventures of real estate marketers who build offices in the hope that it will induce or encourage businesses to come, at a profitable cost per square foot to their own investment goals. To others, the office is simply viewed as a part of the natural order that does not require any sort of analysis. Nevertheless, given the sort of biased critique of the office provided here, it would behoove those who do not have the ideological axes to grind of the author to provide at least a counter-critique to provide balance and perspective. One should not let the kind of insults and slanders hurled by authors like this go entirely unanswered. The solution to a secret history such as this one is a history that is transparent and above board. It simply remains for someone to write it.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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