... disturbing and necessary ... describes with great empathy the lives of workers who do jobs that they themselves find morally horrifying ... [Press] ushers us into a world of moral nuance and psychological complexity that behavioral science rarely captures ... Press’s visceral descriptions of the treatment of mentally ill prisoners are agonizing to read ... Press exhorts us not to look away from our dirty secrets but rather to take responsibility for the 'dirty work' being done to meet the sicker needs of our society. At the same time, perhaps unwittingly, he leaves some doubt as to whether a humane 'us' who will take such responsibility is attainable. Such doubt would go against the spirit of his book: Doubt is a corrosive force; skepticism about the moral capacities of human beings is self-fulfilling. Press would presumably accept that there are times when our faith in one another doesn’t come naturally; it must be willed. It’s a testament to his insight and vision that in spite of the ugliness to which he exposes us on almost every page, he still makes us want to set aside cynicism and pessimism and join him in finding ways to strengthen the moral bonds between us, however flawed we might be.
... makes a powerful case that, instead of vilifying dirty workers, Americans must reckon with what is being done in their name ... muddies the moral lines that many readers might unconsciously maintain, showing their complicity in labyrinthine, deeply unfair systems where the privileged never have to get their hands dirty ... about weighty moral questions, but it's also about people, profiling dozens of workers and empathetically engaging with their crises of conscience. While never absolving his interviewees, he forces readers to ask themselves whether, under similar circumstances, they would have behaved any differently. Dirty Work is not a comfortable or comforting read, nor is it meant to be. Instead, it is a rigorously argued, compassionately framed moral appeal that for some readers might serve as a wake-up call.
Pulling information from sociological and economic studies, sometimes moving between sources at a dizzying pace, Press constructs a fascinating through-line ... As Press' book clearly demonstrates...shared sacrifice is a myth that has 'never been honored as faithfully in practice as in theory.'