Cover image for Workin' on the chain gang : shaking off the dead hand of history
Workin' on the chain gang : shaking off the dead hand of history
Mosley, Walter.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Publishing, 2000.
Physical Description:
118 pages ; 22 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.615 .M645 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E185.615 .M645 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E185.615 .M645 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Slavery was outlawed in this country more than a century ago, but Americans still wear chains. Each one of us, black and white alike, is shackled by a system that values money over humanity, power over truth, conformity over creativity. Race has undeniably made the problem worse, but race is not the root of the problem. Indeed, as black novelist and activist Walter Mosley brilliantly argues in this impassioned call to arms, though the chains might be more recognizable in the lives of blacks, the same chains restrain us all. Only when we understand this truth can we begin--black and white together--to cast off the shackles. Far from being a cause for celebration, the millennium, Mosley argues fiercely, should be the occasion for a frank reckoning with the real state of our society. We have the power to end starvation, but one-third of our children live in poverty. Our politics have degenerated into a multimillion-dollar game show ruled by two indistinguishable monopolies. We drug ourselves with television, sports, sex, apathy, and obsession with celebrity, while our cities rot and violence erupts in our schools. Why is this happening? Because we have allowed ourselves to be made into property, owned and controlled by an economic system in which "value" means only profit. "Some of us are cogs in the economic machine," writes Mosley, "others are ghosts, but it is the machine, not race or gender or even nationality, that drives us." But each one of us can work toward breaking off these chains. First by recognizing the truth of our history--a history that is crucially informed by the black experience. Second by beginning to free ourselves from the noise, the often shallow, diverting entertainments, and an all-consuming economic system. The nation and its potentials are ours to command, but only if we work, individually and collectively, to cast off the chains of yesterday's politics and seize the freedoms that the future holds. Angry, original, and fearlessly honest, Workin' on the Chain Gang is a powerful examination of the American economic and political machine. No matter what your race, gender, politics, or beliefs, this is a book that will profoundly alter the way you think--and the way you act.

Author Notes

Walter Mosley was born in Los Angeles, California on January 12, 1952. He graduated from Johnson State College in Vermont. His first book, Devil in a Blue Dress, was published in 1990, won a John Creasy Award for best first novel, and was made into a motion picture starring Denzel Washington in 1995. He is the author of the Easy Rawlins Mystery series, the Leonid McGill Mystery series, and the Fearless Jones series. His other works include Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, 47, Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, and Twelve Steps toward Political Revelation. He has received numerous awards, including an O. Henry Award, the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award, and PEN America's Lifetime Achievement Award.

(Bowker Author Biography) Walter Mosley is the author of the acclaimed Easy Rawlins series of mysteries, the novels "Blue Light" and "RL's Dream", and two collections of stories featuring Socrates Fortlow, "Always Outnumbered", "Always Outgunned", for which he received the Anisfield-Wolf Award, and "Walkin' the Dog". He is a member of the board of directors of the National Book Awards and the founder of the PEN American Center's Open Book Committee. At various times in his life he has been a potter, a computer programmer, & a poet. He was born in Los Angeles & now lives in New York.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

What a remarkable publishing concept the Library of Contemporary Thought is: long essays by notable writers on subjects that arouse their passion. Anna Quindlen on reading, Carl Hiassen on Disney, John Feinstein on Tiger Woods, for example; now leading mystery writer Mosley writes about how modern chains of "history, economics, self-image, the media, politics, and our misuse of technology and technique" enslave us. Mosley eloquently examines what liberation from consumer capitalism might look like: he urges readers to swear off spectator sports and TV for several months, study "the black experience in America as a torch in the darkness," bravely confront unpleasant truths and "the man in the mirror," and commit to growth and change. Having no grand plan to replace millennial capitalism, Mosley urges readers to think through what those who do the system's work have a right to expect in return. Free market fanatics will hate this book, but readers receptive to a progressive critique of the religion of the market will value Mosley's creative contribution. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Mosley, the author of the popular and critically acclaimed Easy Rawlins mystery series and other novels, issues an ardent manifesto that addresses the political and economic "chains that define our range of motion and our ability to reach for the higher goals" under capitalism, and argues that these "chains might be more recognizable in the black experience, but they restrain us all." Pointing out how "history, economics, self-image, the media, politics and our misuse of technology" limit us, Mosley boldly calls for an aggressive reevaluation of how public information, social life, work and identity are constructed in the United States, invoking a simple axiom: "What we need is a reexamination of the people and their needs." While he claims not to be specifically advocating socialism, he targets an economic system that values corporate profits over the lives and well-being of workers as the main source of psychic and physical pain and ill health in our society. His evaluation of U.S. politics is harsh ("What kind of democracy gives you two candidates who represent less than 5 percent of the population?"), but his message is idealistic, even utopian in its simplicity. In the end, Mosley urges his readers to take responsibility for their own lives and to use their imaginations to envision a new world: "The only way out is to be crazy, to imagine the impossible... to say what it is you want." Less a rigorous political proposal than a cri de coeur against the stifling of the human spirit, Mosley's short book is a bracing and provocative declaration of intellectual and political independence. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

We're all in chains, argues Mosley, imprisoned by a society that celebrates money and power. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.