Books with Workplace Safety and Health Themes

Posted on by Blog Coordinator

Ahab’s Wife

Sena Jeter Naslund (1999)

From our readers: A novel written about the wife of Ahab of Moby Dick.  She disquises herself as a cabin boy and works on a whaling ship.

Animal’s People

Indra Sinha– (2007)

From our readers: A fictional novel about a boy who was born just before the Bhopal environmental disaster and lived with profound deformity. (more “env” than “occ”)

Blue-Collar Journal: A College President’s Sabbatical

John R. Coleman (1974)

The story of a college president who spent his sabbatical doing menial jobs around the country. From trash collecting to digging ditches, this finance professor learned about finances from becoming a working man. He also learned the enjoyment of a hard job done well.

Digging Out

Katherine Leiner (2004)

The fictional story of loss and family reconciliation revolving around a true mine disaster in Aberfan, Wales.

The Dollmaker

Harriette Simpson Arnow (1954)

From our readers: The story of a family that moves from Kentucky hills to Detroit during WWII. The novel focuses on the difficulties of family life as the country heads to industrialization. The husbands union organizing and labor disputes are a part of the novel but the book focus on the wife and her adjustment to the city and homesickness.

An Enemy of the People

Henrik Ibsen (1882)

From our readers: A play about Norwegian bath houses having water pollution from local tanneries. (more “env” than “occ”)


A Flickering Light (Portraits of the Heart, #1)

Jane Kirkpatrick (2009)

From our readers: An early 1900’s woman photographer’s story. It portrays the dangers of the job including chemical exposures.


Emile Zola (1885)

About a coal miner’s strike, there are many novels about coal miners mostly revolving around disasters.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Stieg Larsson (2006)

Two investigative reporters are murdered while researching an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

Hawks Nest

Hubert Skidmore (1941)

From our readers: A novel about a mining disaster that dwells on the account of many who contracted silicosis from their job digging a tunnel.


Gardiner Harris (2010)

A mystery which takes place in Eastern Kentucky. Inspector Will Murphy, brother of the mine owner, investigates a mining accident and suspects something suspicious…

The Help

Kathryn Stockett (2009)

A young college grad with higher aspirations than marriage sets out to write a book about the help in her Mississippi town in 1962. The novel highlights workplace and social issues facing domestic help in the south.

How Green was My Valley

Richard Llewellyn (1939)

From our readers: A novel about a coal mining community in Wales in the late 1800’s.

In the Skin of a Lion

Michael Ondaatje (1987)

From our readers: A fictional account of the immigrants working construction in Toronto in the early 1900’s.

Johnny Got His Gun

Dalton Trumbo (1939)

From our readers: About a WW1 veteran who lost his limbs and face from an exploded shell.  It was a social novel about the horrors of war.

The Jungle

Upton Sinclair (1905)

The book follows an immigrant Lithuanian family through their struggles in 1906 Chicago. The book prompted individuals and voters to question their food safety but also enlightened them on work hazards in the meatpacking industry.

The Killing of Karen Silkwood: The Story Behind the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Case

Richard L. Rashke (1981)

From our readers: About the life and suspicious death of a union activist.

The Last Town on Earth

Thomas Mullen (2006)

From our readers: About a town that quarantines itself from the 1981 flu epidemic. It discusses early organizing efforts in the logging industry and the Everett Massacre. It was the James Feminore Cooper Prize for the Best Historical Fiction in 2007.


David Mason (2010)

From our readers: A novel about the Ludlow Massacre of April 1914 where many miners were killed.

Madame Curie: A Biography

Eve Curie (1936 )

The book is an excellent motivating story of a great scientist who fought many hardships including poverty while growing up in Poland, the male-dominated university establishment, and unknowingly the hazards of radiation. She worked intimately with radiation since she mined it herself from pitchblend, never understood a need for precautions for radiation exposure, and died from leukemia.

The Martian

Andy Weir (2014)

This novel highlights some of the hazards potentially faced by an astronaut on Mars.

Moby Dick

Herman Melville (1851)

From our readers: A classic novel which details every aspect of the job of a whaler during the 1800’s.

Muscle and Blood

Rachel Scott (1974)

From our readers: This book is highlights the social concerns of beryllium disease and work place accidents in mines and refineries.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Frederick Douglass (1845) Classic biography of the life of Frederick Douglass. ( If we define “occupation” broadly)

Nickel and Dimed

Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)

The author travels the country working the “lowliest” jobs for poverty-level wages.

The Perfect Storm

Sebastion Junger (1997)

This true story about the “storm of the century” and the sword boat Andrea Gale gives a detailed account of long sea voyages, short home furloughs, relationships, and the lives of fishermen. The story also delves into the training of the Air National Guard in their daily job of rescuing people at sea.

Spin State

Chris Moriarty (2003)

The novel revolves around the life of an alien living through a mining accident on a colony planet.

The Tortilla Curtain

T.C. Boyle (1995)

One of the few books that describes an occupational chemical over-exposure. The book follows a Hispanic immigrant couple as they venture into the U.S. looking for work. This couple’s problems are contrasted with the problems of an upper middle class couple whose paths cross. As a day laborer, America was put in the position of using solvents to clean pottery without gloves resulting in significant burns and discomfort.

Water for Elephants

Sara Gruen (2006)

The novel describes the hazards of working in the circus during the Depression.

The Whip

Karen Kondazian (2012)

A great book about a woman who lives as a man and becomes a famous stagecoach driver. Inspired by a true story, the novel shows the lack of opportunity (in the workplace and otherwise) available to women in the 1800’s.



Studs Terkel, 1974

A firsthand account of ordinary workers and what they think of their jobs; from custodians to a nun, from a police officer to farm workers, all had their story.

Working at the Ballpark

Tom Jones (2008)

A book on what it’s really like to make a living in the world of baseball.

A Working Stiff’s Manifesto: A Memoir of a Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine that Fired Me, and Three I Can’t Remember

Iain Levison (2003)

From our readers: A memoir about a Iain Levison who has an English degree but few job prospects, so he works many blue collar jobs.

Young Men and Fire

Norman Maclean (non-fiction) (1993)

From our readers: An account of the Mann Gulch fire of 1949.

Posted on by Blog Coordinator
Page last reviewed: December 21, 2015
Page last updated: December 21, 2015