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Cubed summary

Nikil Saval

A Secret History of the Workplace

3.8 (10 ratings)
12 mins

Brief summary

"Cubed" by Nikil Saval is a fascinating history of the modern office, exploring its origins and evolution, and the impact it has had on our lives and work.

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    Industrialization inspired the rise of the clerk and a distinct workplace, separate from manual workers.

    You know how receipts and personal documents often pile up on your desk? It takes a lot of work to keep track of all that paper, even when it belongs to just one person.

    Now, imagine the amount of work it would take to organize documents for multiple employees, or even keep track of every business transaction within an organization!

    Administrative jobs that deal with filing papers, paying bills and organizing accounts are common, so much so that they’re considered a standard, entry-level position in any firm.

    Historically, however, it wasn’t until the advent of industrialization in the mid-nineteenth century that such positions became required posts in the workplace.

    The people assigned to these jobs were called clerks. Initially, clerks worked alongside their bosses in so-called counting houses. These “offices” consisted of nothing more than a dark, tightly packed room. As a clerk, you were lucky if you even had a window!

    One New York office, for example, housed ten people, six of which were clerks, in an office of 25 square feet – that’s the size of a modest bathroom by today’s standards.

    By 1855, clerks had become New York’s third-biggest group of workers. The sudden growth in the number of clerks meant people needed more space to work, a development which coincided with a spacial separation between manual and non-manual workers.

    For instance, you’d often find non-manual workers in a separate office space downtown, apart from a factory where manual workers toiled. Or, if a business was under one roof, the physical separation of clerks and manual workers would be distinct, such as by having separate entrances for each.

    Another key factor about the workplace in this era was that clerks and bosses usually worked together in close proximity. Consequently, they often developed good relationships with one another, with a clerk often becoming a trusted, “right-hand man” for a boss.

    This workplace model wouldn’t last long, though. We’ll explore what happened as businesses grew in the next blink.

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    What is Cubed about?

    In Cubed (2014), you’ll discover that what you know as your office cubicle – that beige box so many workers worldwide toil in each day – is a fairly recent invention, despite its long history of development. These blinks will explain how the modern office came to be through a detailed account of the evolution of the workplace.

    Cubed Review

    Cubed (2014) is a thought-provoking exploration of the history and impact of the office space on modern society. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers fascinating insights into the evolution of office design and its effects on productivity, collaboration, and well-being.
    • Provides a rich historical context by delving into the origins of the office and the societal changes that shaped its development.
    • Examines the power dynamics and social hierarchies within the workplace, shedding light on the complexities of office politics.

    Best quote from Cubed

    By 1860, 25 percent of Philadelphians were occupied in non-manual work. In San Francisco, 37 percent; and in Boston, almost 40 percent.

    —Nikil Saval
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    Who should read Cubed?

    • Historians or sociologists interested in the evolution of the office-worker
    • Employees and employers interested in management and workplace science

    About the Author

    Nikil Saval is an American writer based in Philadelphia. He is an editor at n+1, a New York-based literary magazine for culture, politics and literature.

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    Cubed FAQs 

    What is the main message of Cubed?

    The main message of Cubed is a historical exploration of the modern office and its impact on our lives.

    How long does it take to read Cubed?

    The reading time for Cubed varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Cubed a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Cubed is a fascinating read that offers valuable insights into the history and future of office spaces.

    Who is the author of Cubed?

    The author of Cubed is Nikil Saval.

    What to read after Cubed?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Cubed, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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