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Sociologist Richard Sennett claims the new workplace denies individual potential and destroys employee-corporate relations. He examines the effects of fast-paced, flexible capitalism on replaceable workers and our ideas about labor.

"A larger sense of community and a fuller sense of character is required by the increasing number of people who, in modern capitalism, are doomed to fail," he writes.

Sennett does not call for a return to the past, which he depicts as neither better nor worse. Instead, he portrays the modern-day lives of real people who are dislocated, financially precarious, and isolated.

When IBM laid off hundreds of middle-managers during the early '90s, some workers returned as temps or consultants. Some lost interest in their careers, moving from betrayal to blame to guilt to apathy. But others became active in their churches, turning to religion to replace their old faith in markets.

"The Corrosion of Character" studies an economy that emphasizes constant risk. Sennett summarizes the current status quo: "What political programs follow from those inner needs, I simply don't know. But I do know a regime which provides human beings no deep reasons to care about one another cannot long preserve its legitimacy."

Sennett has his fingertips on the pulse of people talking about the workplace in books, on Web sites, and in national symposiums. This is a compassionate inspection of the times and an essential read for people concerned with business and culture.

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