by Eyal Press
A groundbreaking, urgent report from the front lines of dirty work--the work that society considers essential but morally compromised
Drone pilots who carry out targeted assassinations. Undocumented immigrants who man the "kill floors" of industrial slaughterhouses. Guards who patrol the wards of the United States' most violent and abusive prisons. In Dirty Work, Eyal Press offers a paradigm-shifting view of the moral landscape of contemporary America through the stories of people who perform society's most ethically troubling jobs. As Press shows, we are increasingly shielded and distanced from an array of morally questionable activities that other, less privileged people perform in our name.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn unprecedented attention to essential workers, and to the health and safety risks to which workers in prisons and slaughterhouses are exposed. But Dirty Work examines a less familiar set of occupational hazards: psychological and emotional hardships such as stigma, shame, PTSD, and moral injury. These burdens fall disproportionately on low-income workers, undocumented immigrants, women, and people of color.
Illuminating the moving, sometimes harrowing stories of the people doing society's dirty work, and incisively examining the structures of power and complicity that shape their lives, Press reveals fundamental truths about the moral dimensions of work and the hidden costs of inequality in America.
"This is a scathing and thoughtful book about labor and principles--or, rather about when the former sabotages the latter, in the brutal industries that prop up American life, from our appetite for cheap meat and fossil fuel to mass incarceration to remote killing as part of our foreign policy to the tech industry's amoral profit seeking. Though the moral injury impacts the workers first, it belongs to us all. Eyal Press brings this home in a series of powerful portraits of workers, and through considerations of both their industries and the ways we look away or are prevented from seeing what they do. Ultimately, Dirty Work is a book about human sacrifice and the forces that disguise it." -- Rebecca Solnit, author of Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir
"Our society fights wars, imprisons criminals, produces food, and makes energy. However necessary it may be, the work involved is often ugly and violent. We want it done, cheaply, but don't want to see it done. Enter Eyal Press, a writer in the tradition of George Orwell and Martha Gellhorn, who asks us to look at the dirty work that men and women do in our name. With measured prose and exquisite poise, Press describes the moral burden these workers assume, and analyzes the systemic inequities that burden reflects. The result is as stunning as it is disturbing." -- Corey Robin, author of The Enigma of Clarence Thomas
About the Author:
Eyal Press is an author and a journalist based in New York. The recipient of the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, an Andrew Carnegie fellowship, a Cullman Center fellowship at the New York Public Library, and a Puffin Foundation fellowship at Type Media Center, he is a contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Nation, and numerous other publications. He is the author of Beautiful Souls and Absolute Convictions.