book review
By Marc Gunther

(FORTUNE Magazine) – In her brilliant 2001 bestseller Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, the writer and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich went incognito to provide an eye-opening account of blue-collar work. Now comes Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, in which Ehrenreich goes underground once more in an effort to investigate the lives and habits of white-collar corporate managers. This time she only half succeeds.

The good news is that Ehrenreich, a keen observer of American culture, has written an entertaining book about the depressing world of middle-class unemployment. She discovers the murky netherworld of Internet job sites, career coaches, and creepy networking events organized by evangelical Christians. (One suggests that she "network with God.") She applies for hundreds of jobs but rarely gets a rejection; most of her entreaties are simply ignored. Worse, she's repeatedly told she'd surely find work if only she would become more focused, or more upbeat, or more attractive. "It's not the world that needs changing, is the message, it's you," she writes.

Unhappily for readers, Ehrenreich never does get a real job, so she doesn't get inside big business. Instead, she concludes that the "transition zone" proves that corporations want people who are "relentlessly cheerful" as well as not too bright. Really? Aside from the sheer impossibility of generalizing about what corporations want, the truth is that business would implode if it were as "disturbingly loony" as Ehrenreich describes.