** Swimming in the Steno Pool by Lynn Peril

I quite enjoyed Swimming in the Steno Pool, which is a history of secretaries, rather than the weird “Retro Guide to Making It in the Office” of its subtitle. And secretaries are an endangered species. I see very few of them at client sites, usually only for the big honchos, and even my early memories of the work world lack the pools of typists that filled businesses in the pre-computer era. The book recreates the days of the typing pool and stenographers, and a time when women were routinely advised to train for secretarial work and then promptly forbidden to rise up the ranks. This rank sexism just seems unimaginable today, thankfully.

No scholarly treatise, the book includes romance novels that feature secretaries, and lots of often entertaining, if eventually repetitive excerpts of training manuals for secretaries that advise their readers to be charming, very, very proper, and never show how smart you really are. Too bad that the book does not make room to salute the wonderful productivity boost that a professional secretary can provide, even in a connected era.

 

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